Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Baby Steps toward Final Peace in Angola A Few Child Soldiers Go Home, Heartening the UN

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Baby Steps toward Final Peace in Angola A Few Child Soldiers Go Home, Heartening the UN

Article excerpt

Under an impossibly hot African sun 17-year-old Pvt. Francisco Luca waits patiently for the Angolan Army to give him his freedom back.

"I didn't want to join the Army, they made me join," says Francisco as he explains how soldiers burst into his home one night three years ago in the interior province of Bie and took him away. "All these years, all I have wanted to do is go home. Now finally I'm going back to Bie to see my family and work with my father on his farm."

His discharge, along with those of 212 others between the ages of 13 and 17, at a ceremony here in late January marked the first official demobilization by the government - a small but significant step. His excruciatingly slow return to civilian life is typical of Angola's sputtering peace process, which began when the government and the former rebel group UNITA (the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola) signed a peace accord in Lusaka, the capital of neighboring Zambia, in 1994. The United Nations special representative to Angola, Alioune Blondin Beye, has gotten used to nursing the peace along. The gregarious Mr. Beye takes every opportunity to usher the two reluctant camps toward a formal peace, the result of which will be the inauguration of a Government of National Unity and Reconciliation that will include members of both sides. "The eternal pessimists have once again been proved wrong," Beye told diplomats and military officials at the child-soldier discharge ceremony. But serious problems must be solved before a formal end to the civil war, which exploded after Angola gained independence from Portugal in 1975, can come about, say observers close to the process. Chief among them is the role UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi will play. A UN-mediated proposal to give Mr. Savimbi the job of "principal presidential adviser" seemed to be making progress just before the Jan. 25 date for the inauguration of a new government. Then Beye announced a delay in the process. Although the Lusaka Protocol stresses there should be no link between forming a new government and the status of Savimbi, those close to the process say this issue is the main sticking point. …

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