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Saturday, 6 July, 2002, 14:54 GMT 15:54 UK
Rebels face life without a cause
Unita soldier in demobilisation camp
The civil war in Angola lasted for 26 years

You don't expect to see a traffic roundabout in the middle of the forest. Especially on a road that sees one vehicle a day if it's lucky - some aid workers on an inspection mission, or an army truck bringing an all too rare consignment of food.

This roundabout is in a place called Calala, in the remote eastern most reaches of Angola - one of the locations marked for the demobilisation of Unita troops.
Mother and child
The camps were set up under a peace accord

Driving along the empty, untarred road next to the forest, you suddenly come upon a set of gate posts to your right, where a side road leads off into the woods.

The gateposts are made of poles of pale coloured wood, with black stripes burnt on to make them more visible.

Demobilisation camp

Turn off the road and into the forest, and the road is now marked out with stakes, burnt black and white in the same way.

It is the turnoff to the so-called "technical area" - the place where the guns are kept - that is deemed worthy of the roundabout, also marked out in the ever-present black and white stakes.

Other roads go to the janga, the thatched, circular meeting hall that is a feature of every Angolan village, and to the hospital - a series of grass huts where I was greeted by a surgeon in a full green theatre gown.

I was allowed to inspect the stethoscope, kidney dishes and forceps laid out on the rough wooden tables.

With these public works duly completed, the residents of the camp are getting on with building their own huts. I watched one man stripping bark which he had use to tie together the framework of his new home.

I didn't meet one single person who believed that the war ought to have continued

"I learnt to build like this when we were in the bush," he told me. "I've built plenty of houses like this before."

At the moment, Unita is getting by on the same survival skills learnt during years as a guerrilla army on the run.

With this much effort going into building the camp, it seems incredible that this is only meant to be a temporary settlement.

Family reunion

But that is what it is according to the peace accord - and in any case, the residents are anxious to be reunited with family members.

One man told me how he had not seen his brothers and sisters since 1974, when he decided to join Unita. "I left without saying goodbye, because I knew if I had said goodbye they wouldn't have let me go," he said.

In the three quartering areas I have visited in the last month, in eastern, central and western Angola, I didn't meet one single person who believed that the war ought to have continued.

In Ndele, near Kuito in the centre of the country, the building works are even more impressive - some people have got to the stage of decorating their houses with woven grasses that form patterns, or spell out the word ANGOLA.

Jonas Savimbi
'No-one in the camps will admit that Jonas Savimbi ever did anything wrong'
The commander of the camp told me that he had struck up an excellent relationship with the Angolan Army contingent that was supervising the collection of weapons. "We have concluded that the war between Angolans was useless," the commander told me.

"So why then did they spend 27 years fighting?" I asked.

He told me I should put that question to the politicians, not the soldiers.

But political loyalties remain firm. No one in the camps will admit that Jonas Savimbi ever did anything wrong.

An elderly man told me he had joined Unita more than 20 years ago because he believed the movement represented a just cause.

He said had been in Luanda during the 1992 elections, and returned to the bush when Unita went back to war. So I asked him who he thought was the real victor in that election.

He hesitated for the first time during our conversation: "I can't answer that, it's rather sensitive for me"

But he assured me: "I will always be Unita to the end of my life. Unita has not failed, we can never fail. Now we will struggle politically - there will be elections, we are ready to contest them."

Language of peace

Unita's people have adopted the language of peace as enthusiastically as they set to building those straight roads and cosy houses in the forest.

One man told me that all he wanted now was a modest job that would allow him to feed and educate his children.

When I asked him if he thought this was realistic, his reply was straightforward: "I deserve a job, I'm a son of Angola."
Unita soldiers
Unita's soldiers will have to adjust to civilian life

The government and Unita's own leaders have promised vocational training, and help with adjusting to civilian life.

In the strange, in-between world of the demobilisation camps, it is easy to believe that all will be well.

It was a driver working for the Red Cross in Luanda, who gave me a lift to yet another of the camps, who put it in perspective. "These people have been in the bush all their lives - they have never had to live in a market economy," he said.

The real test will come when Unita's soldiers finally go home, start looking for jobs and getting to know their new neighbours - in towns and villages that Unita may have been attacking just a few months ago.

Jonas Savimbi, killed after 26 years of civil war

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See also:

23 Jun 02 | Africa
21 Jun 02 | Africa
02 Apr 02 | Africa
31 Mar 02 | Africa
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