Angola prepares for peace

Angola’s army is preparing to demobilize UNITA rebels and repatriate the guerrilla group’s Congolese fighters, Gen. Armando Cruz Neto told Angola’s congress Tuesday, The Associated Press (AP) reported.

The government is scheduled to sign a formal cease-fire Thursday in the country’s nearly three-decade-old civil war, the AP reported.

A preliminary agreement for the pact was signed Saturday by Angolan army and UNITA representatives, the AP reported. The cease-fire pact is to be signed in the capital, Luanda, by UNITA’s interim leader Paulo Lukamba Gato.

Gen. Cruz Neto said centers will be set up across the country to demobilize about 50,000 UNITA soldiers and their families, the AP reported. The troops include include an unknown number of guerrillas from neighboring Congo, who joined UNITA when the longtime dictator of what was then Zaire, Mobutu Sese Seko, was ousted by Laurent Kabila in 1997.

Representatives from the United States, United Nations, Portugal, and Russia will be present at the demobilization centers to be set up in this oil and diamond-rich southwest African nation, the AP reported. The government says it will take between four and nine months to integrate the rebels into society. In addition, the government said there would be broader talks with UNITA on an overall peace settlement but these have yet to be scheduled.

The recent deaths of rebel leader Jonas Savimbi, killed six weeks ago by the Angolan army, and the group’s vice president Antonio Dembo raised hopes that the civil war could soon end.

The fighting first began after the country’s 1975 independence from Portugal and is believed to have killed at least 500,000 people. Three previous peace deals have failed.

The fighting also drew Angola into its neighbor’s civil war when it sent troops to Congo to stop UNITA using it as a base and to back Kabila. The Angolans fought alongside troops from Zimbabwe and Namibia, while Rwanda’s and Uganda’s armies supported the rebels seeking to oust Kabila.

African leaders involved in Congo’s war, including an Angolan representative, are due to meet in Zambia on Wednesday to discuss the withdrawal of foreign troops, including Angolans and the final deployment of U.N. forces.