For the past six years the pursuit of peace in Angola has been one of the United Nation's most costly and frustrating disappointments. The bill: $1.5 billion. The result: failure. Twice since 1994 U.N. peacekeeping missions have been and gone, unable to halt the Angolan civil war which has dragged on for 25 years. Three times the U.N. has introduced economic sanctions against the National Union for the Total Liberation of Angola (UNITA), the country's rebel group, with little effect. Last week the U.N. launched a new offensive, aimed not at UNITA itself but at the international wheeler-dealers who have been breaking the U.N. embargoes on arms, fuel, diamonds, financial dealings and travel assistance to UNITA--thus keeping Angola's civil war alive. U.N. leaders hope the new tactic will be decisive in finally ending the conflict.
The 54-page report, produced by the chairman of the Security Council's Sanctions Committee, Canada's ambassador Robert Fowler, lists at least 10 African countries in which governments or individuals are accused of breaking U.N. sanctions against unita. Specifically named as personally helping unita's cause are four African leaders: President Gnassingbe Eyadema of Togo, President Blaise Campaore of Burkina Faso, Vice President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and the late Congo-Za´re dictator Mobuto Sese Seko. Several South African individuals are accused of having worked with UNITA to supply arms and other material in return for diamonds, long the rebels' main source of income. UNITA's diamonds have been laundered through most of these countries, the report alleges, and have been moved easily into Europe, mainly because of slack controls and regulations in the Antwerp bourse, the major market for uncut diamonds, as well as other marketing centers.
The main point of the U.N. report is to expose the illicit diamond trade that fuels the war machine of UNITA's charismatic leader Jonas Savimbi. The Angolan conflict has a long and bloody history. Rival political factions were fighting for control even before Portugal's hasty withdrawal in 1975. One group, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), seized power thanks to strong military backing from the Soviet Union and Cuba. Its main adversary was UNITA, which began a guerrilla war against the Luanda government. Claiming to be Angola's true democratic leader, with popular majority support, Savimbi found ready Western allies in what became a proxy combat in the larger cold war.
The ebb and flow of a quarter of a century of bush war--in which an estimated half a million people have died--has left the country decimated and desolate, a hellhole of shattered lives and besieged towns and cities. Parts of the country are still strewn with land mines and international aid agencies are hard-pressed to handle the roughly 1.2 million people, 10% of the population, who have been displaced by the war.
Even after the cold war ended and UNITA lost the support of the anti-communist South African apartheid regime, Savimbi, now 65, fought on. His friends in Africa, the U.S. and Europe, who believed he got a raw deal in 1975 and should be in power, are still willing to give him material support with arms and supplies. And he can still afford to pay for the war in the hardest currency on the market--diamonds.
It is estimated that Savimbi controls up to two-thirds of Angola's diamond output. By early 1998, as an abortive 1994 peace pact was collapsing, UNITA was forced to hand some diamond fields back to the government. But by then the rebels had stripped them clean. When in July 1998 the U.N. Security Council finally imposed an embargo on UNITA's diamond trade it was estimated that it had been worth up to $4 billion to the movement over a period of six years. It is this financial lifeline that the U.N. is now trying to cut.
Not unexpectedly, the report raised a storm in the U.N., with delegates from African states on the list scrambling to refute the accusations. But most members agreed that its contents were well-founded and should be acted upon. "The report is a conservative one," says Jackie Potgieter, a senior researcher at the South African Institute for Security Studies. "There are many major suppliers to UNITA who weren't even mentioned. But it's a good start." As a result of the U.N. disclosures, Belgium last week agreed to tighten its diamond trade controls. The South African government promised to explore legal actions against the named sanctions busters. And the U.K. and Canada were among the first members of the Security Council to back a recommendation from the sanctions committee that countries ignoring U.N. embargoes against UNITA should face some form of sanctions themselves. For now diamonds may be Jonas Savimbi's best friend, but they may not be forever.