Leading a UN Mission: Angola 1992-93

Date: 2003

Dame Margaret Anstee

"Dame Margaret Joan Anstee, DCMG (1926 – 2016) was a British diplomat who served at the United Nations for over four decades (1952–93), rising to the rank of an Under-Secretary-General in 1987. She was the first woman to hold this position. From 1992 to 1993 she was the Secretary-General's Special Representative to Angola; again, she was the first woman to head a UN peacekeeping mission." source: wikipaedia


Originally published in "Never Learn to Type - a Woman at the United Nations", John Wiley & Sons, 2003.  Reproduced by kind permission of the publisher and writer.

U1NAVEM 11 - A 'Small and Manageable Operation'

At the end of January 1992 I met the new Secretary-General. Knowing that he was under pressure to cut posts, I hastened to say that I had no vested interest in staying on, but it was pointless for me to continue in Vienna unless the social development programme was fully integrated. If not, I was happy to retire. If I could be of service I would prefer an operational job and was ready to go anywhere.

I had many items to discuss but never got beyond the first: my efforts to help the Soviet Union and Eastern European countries. Full of my experiences in Moscow a week earlier, I said that the world community should, in its own interest, extend generous help, particularly to offset the dire social costs of economic transformation. If not, I foresaw grave economic and social problems that could lead to political backlash and instability, especially in the Soviet Union, with serious implications for the rest of the world. The West seemed oblivious to these risks and I urged that the UN and the Secretary-General take the lead in calling world attention to the problem.

Boutros-Ghali insisted, however, that all such help should go to developing countries, and we became locked in feisty argument, a radical change of style from his predecessor. I found our exchange intellectually stimulating, exhilarating even, but it took up much time and I felt less than exhilarated when the Secretary-General abruptly got to his feet and shook my hand, leaving much of my agenda unbroached.

Less than a week later, on 5 February, I was telephoned late at night in Vienna. The Secretary-General wished to know, within 24 hours, if I would accept the post of his Special Representative for Angola and head of the peace-keeping mission there - the UN Angola Verification Mission, UNAVEM II. I knew that a considerable gamble was involved and sought the advice of the man who had first aroused my interest in Angola 25 years before in Addis Ababa. I saw this surprise development as an ironic twist of fate, creating another bond between us, even though we might never meet again, and expected him to react enthusiastically to the prospect of my helping the Angolan people. Instead he said adamantly 'Don't touch it. It's an impossible mission and you'll only get hurt.'

His remarks proved prophetic but after hours of soul-searching, I perversely accepted the challenge. Marrack (Mig) Goulding, then Under Secretary-General in charge of peace-keeping, told me it was undoubtedly a difficult mission but not a totally lost cause. Others were less sanguine, and warned me that it would be dangerous.

Insofar as I was able to reason coolly the disadvantages were outweighed by other considerations. I longed to be back in the field and the tragic plight of the Angolan people made it hard to refuse. If the mission was successful, it would make possible the development of a potentially rich country and do much to assure political stability and economic prosperity in Southern Africa. The end of the Cold War and the Peace Accords recently signed between the MPLA Government of Angola (previously supported by the Soviet Union and Cuba) and the UNITA rebels (supported by the United States and South Africa) held out greater promise of a settlement than ever before.

This was also the first time that a woman had been asked to head a UN peace-keeping mission, with command over military and police components, as well as civilian elements. If I refused, the sceptics would say, 'It was offered to a woman, but she refused', while women would feel I had let them down. Yet the risks were considerable. Failure, which many thought likely, would entail the familiar search for a scapegoat, a role for which the UN seems particularly well designed. And if the senior official were a woman, then the aforesaid sceptics would have a field day.

The most persuasive argument was the echo of my mother's voice: 'Don't jib!' I decided that it was better to end my career with a bang (and how true that turned out to be!) than a whimper. Things moved fast. On Friday 7 February 1992, the Secretary-General announced my appointment, to last seven months, until multiparty general elections were held at the end of September.

 

Mig Goulding was supposed to lead a mission to Angola on 16 February to prepare the ground for my arrival, as well as plan for an electoral component to be added to the military and police operation, but he was called away on another mission. On 14 February I received another late-night call, asking me to replace him.

In Luanda I plunged into four hectic days of activity: briefings at Vila Espa, the UNAVEM camp; visits to the Government and UNITA delegations; attendance at a meeting of the Joint Political and Military Commission (known by its Portuguese acronym CCPM); and a flight to two troop cantonment areas (one government, one UNITA) in the rugged northern province of Uige. President Jose Eduardo dos Santos was unable to see me but Dr Jonas Savimbi, the UNITA leader, received me immediately, in some state, at his heavily guarded White House, surrounded by his 'Cabinet' and in the mediaeval court atmosphere that was his hallmark. An imposing and charismatic figure, Savimbi was all sweetness and light, promising full cooperation. But I detected that under this blandly smiling exterior lay a ruthless will of iron. On the night flight back to Paris, I composed a personal letter to the Secretary-General voicing my concern about the immensity of the task in contrast to UNAVEM's marginal mandate and paltry resources.

 

Starting at the end of 1988, UNAVEM I, a purely military mission, had successfully monitored the withdrawal of 50 000 Cuban troops. Meanwhile Portugal, the Soviet Union and the United States had negotiated a peace settlement between the MPLA Government and UNITA, signed on 31 May 1991 in Bicesse, Portugal. The UN had no part in the negotiation, except for a military observer present at the last stage.

The Bicesse Accords envisaged the cantonment of two rival armies, estimated to total 200 000, in assembly areas all over the country; their disarmament and demobilisation; and the formation of new, joint armed forces, numbering 50 000. A neutral police force was to be set up, the central administration was to be extended all over the country, and there was to be free movement of people and goods. The process was to culminate in multiparty general elections and a democratically elected government. UNITA wanted the elections in three months, the Government not before three years. In an arbitrary compromise the accords stipulated they must take place between September and November 1992. The supposition that 16 years of war could be restored in 16 months was over-optimistic, as was the assumption that elections would clinch the process, rather than mark a mere first step towards reconciliation and democracy. Moreover, no pre­conditions were established for holding the elections.

CCPM comprised only two members, the MPLA Government and UNITA, which alternated in the chairmanship, the thesis being that they would control one another. This arrangement naively presupposed a Boy Scout spirit, in circumstances hardly conducive to its evolution. Portugal, the Soviet Union (later the Russian Federation) and the United States, known as the Troika, had official observer status. The UN was only to be 'invited' as appropriate.

This extraordinary set-up was characteristic of the marginal role given to the UN at Bicesse. UNITA had wanted a strong UN presence, with armed 'Blue Helmets'. The Government had wanted the minimum, citing considerations of sovereignty, a somewhat illusory concept since they controlled only part of the country. In another compromise, the UN's role was restricted to observing and verifying that the two sides were doing what they said they were doing. This suited the negotiating countries, especially the two superpowers, who wanted a 'quick fix' now that the Cold War was over, when in fact the Cold War had exacerbated the Angolan conflict and armed both sides to the teeth.

The means given to the UN were not commensurate even with its limited mandate. On 30 May 1991 Security Council Resolution 696 established UNAVEMII with 350 unarmed military observers, 90 unarmed police observers and 80 civilians. It was to function until the day after the elections. Initially it was headed by a Chief Military Observer, with the rank of Major General. It was not until December 1991 that the Angolan government requested the Secretary-General to send electoral observers and it was decided to appoint a political head of UNAVEM II or Special Representat­ive of the Secretary-General. Yet two more months elapsed before I was asked to arrive the day before yesterday.

An interesting sidelight came to my notice recently. When my appointment was announced the Portuguese observer, Ambassador Antonio Monteiro, expressed doubts to his minister, Jose Durao Barroso, about the wisdom of appointing a special representative to an under-mandated and under-resourced mis­sion. The Minister found it an excellent development: it would get the Troika off the hook, should things go wrong. The UN - and hence I - was precast in the role of scapegoat.

When I assumed my post only seven months before the election date, no electoral preparations had begun and the military provisions of the Bicesse Accords were hopelessly behind schedule. Since October 1991 the Secretary-General had re­peatedly warned the Security Council about the seriousness of this situation. The seeds of the eventual debacle were sown long before my arrival.

 

On 7 March 1992 I flew to New York to sort out budget and personnel matters. The Secretary-General's request for my small staff had been submitted to the Security Council on 3 March, but no action was taken until three weeks later. Approval of the budget - a mere US$118 million for 18 months - took even longer. The Security Council, I was repeatedly told, wanted a 'small and manageable' operation. In vain I pleaded that Angola, as large as France, Spain and Germany combined, could hardly be considered small nor, from my preliminary observations, particularly manageable. There were difficulties also over obtaining civilian staff. Because of pressure to cut posts, outside recruitment was not allowed, and the tremendous increase in UN peace-keeping operations meant there was a dearth of people to choose from. Moreover Angola was not a popular choice: the Secretary-General's report of October 1991 to the Security Council described conditions of service there as 'amongst the most difficult that have ever been faced by UN peace-keeping personnel.' Again the insistence on certain nationalities meant a less than optimum choice of incumbents for some key posts, for which I was to suffer later.

The Chief Military Officer from Nigeria, General Edward Unimna had been head of UNAVEM II until my arrival. Goulding had warned me that he was a difficult man but that it was politically impossible to remove him. In his own recent book, Peacemonger, Goulding records that he had welcomed my appointment but worried how Unimna would react, adding, 'He had not made a good impression when I visited Angola the previous year and I had received a number of complaints, then and since, about his short temper and autocratic management.' Later he describes him as 'a martinet, short-tempered, autocratic and even violent; he had been observed more than once to strike his driver. This was not the style of command which is needed in a multinational operation.'

Forewarned, I was at first able to develop reasonable relations with him. His unpopularity with his officers meant that they warmly welcomed me, even though a female head of mission was not what they had expected.

Things became complicated when my civilian deputy, Ibrahim Jobarteh, arrived. A long-serving UN official and clever adminis­trator, he had a very mixed personal reputation, but there was no one else available. While he assured me he wished to improve relations with Unimna, it soon became clear they were making common cause to isolate me. They objected to my customary team approach of regular meetings with all the heads of individual components of the mission, to ensure that everyone understood the political context in which I was working and that there was appropriate interaction between them, especially between military and civilian units. They maintained that I should meet only with them and eventually boycotted these general meetings. Jobarteh had the gall to complain that I did not consult him enough, because I convened meetings at 8 o'clock and he never appeared until mid-morning, having hosted heavy drinking parties until the early hours. His aim was to run the show through direct contact with colleagues in New York behind my back, but soon found I was no Trilby needing a Svengali. Worst of all my special assistant, a young woman who performed well before his arrival, became part of his coterie and nightly gatherings. For the first time in my UN experience I could not count on loyalty from my immediate staff, except for a devoted Filipino secretary, Elizabeth Pantaleon, and my Chief Administrative Officer, Tom White. It became a very lonely job indeed.

 

I accepted to go to Angola for seven months but circumstances obliged me to spend 17. It was the most traumatic and heart­rending mission of my life, a story I have told in my book, Orphan of the Cold War: The Inside Story of the Collapse of the Angolan Peace Process, 1992-3.

I installed myself in the UNAVEM camp, 15 kilometres outside Luanda in order to be 'with the troops'. I had a tiny bungalow and shared another with the General as our offices. I had another office in an insalubrious building downtown. The majority of our staff lived and worked in what came to be known as 'Container City'. Conditions were crowded; water scarce; electricity, provided by an aged and noisy generator, was often cut; and communications at first very difficult, even with New York.

I had domestic help in the buxom shape of a lady with the appropriately statuesque name of Maria do Fatima, who sailed round the house like a galleon before a barely perceptible breeze, and in a generally becalmed state of mind. Fortunately I had decided to bring Sissy from Vienna at my expense (the UN does not provide such niceties]. She arrived clasping a lugubrious teddy bear, almost as large as herself, and strung around with twice as much hand-baggage as any sensible person would carry or prudent airline allow. Sissy greatly helped my official work. With her arrival I was able to receive key people discreetly over a good meal in my little house.

There was a swimming pool and at dawn I swam my kilometre before the rest of the camp stirred, undeterred by the fact that one of our Russian pilots drowned there, by green algae, or an invasion of frogs. The latter caused the Chief Administrative Officer to send a circular saying that the 'SRSG has complained about copulating frogs in the pool'. The Ghurkha guards whom we were eventually allowed to have under private contract (no one in the UN mission could carry arms] used to fish the offending amphibians out, but disconcertingly insisted on saluting me while I stood by, feeling foolish in a bathing suit.

UNAVEM was little less than a logistic miracle. Our scant personnel were spread over 84 locations: six regional head­quarters; 48 troop assembly areas; 18 police locations; and 12 critical points along Angola's long borders. Civilian and electoral staff were stationed in the provincial capitals. Even there, housing and sanitation were usually dreadful. The harshest conditions were endured by the military observers (UNMOs) in isolated assembly areas: teams of five officers, each of a different nationality, often with no common language, having to monitor several thousand disgruntled Angolan soldiers. At first they lived in grass huts, shaking snakes from the roof before they went to bed, but later we obtained tented accommodation.

Because of the remoteness of these sites and the devastated infrastructure UNAVEM's air support absorbed nearly 50 per cent of the budget. My fleet consisted of three fixed-wing aircraft and 14 helicopters, the latter, like their crews, contracted from Russia or Bulgaria, the cheapest international source. The helicopters were elderly, seemingly held together by wire, but the pilots first-class.

I flew the length and breadth of Angola, visiting provincial capitals and assembly areas, usually in the Beechcraft, changing to a helicopter wherever there was no landing strip. These demanding trips provided me with valuable information and boosted staff morale. We would leave at first light and come back late, the plane's lights extinguished to avoid unwelcome attention from the sharpshooters who abounded after dark, even around Vila Espa.

At assembly areas, I had to address several thousand soldiers, in the open air, without a microphone. I developed a parade-ground volume of delivery but at one UNITA area I asked the commander to bring the troops nearer. He barked an order and in seconds the men had surrounded me in perfect formation. I felt glad that it was a friendly occasion. The UNITA camps were better organised and their stored weapons, well greased, looked all too ready to use.

I had a further demonstration of UNITA's rigid discipline on my visit, in April 1992, to Jamba, the mysterious non-town in the far south-east, unmarked on any map, which had for years been Dr Savimbi's headquarters. It boasted an international-class airstrip that had seen the passage of many prominent people, including officials from successive US administrations, but the town consisted of grass huts scattered in acacia scrub. I was received by dancing, chanting crowds in apparently huge numbers, until I discovered that they were being trucked from point to point. From this remote bush location Vorgan radio - the Voice of the Black Cockerel - broadcast UNITA propaganda as far as Europe. I expressed surprise that a clothes factory seemed only to produce dark green military uniforms, now that peace had been declared, and was blandly told that this was surplus stock to be worn by civilians.

 

President Jose Eduardo dos Santos did not receive me until 2 April but any misgivings I had about the delay were dispelled by the cordiality of my reception. I developed good relations with both leaders. Their styles were very different: President dos Santos, modest and reserved, often only accompanied by his foreign affairs adviser; Dr Savimbi, ever flamboyant, flanked by serried ranks of well-rehearsed courtiers.

CCPM took for granted that I would attend every meeting, and not just 'when invited'. I detected relief that there was another pair of shoulders on which to place responsibility. At UNAVEM's suggestion, cantonment and demobilisation were conducted simul­taneously instead of consecutively and on 31 March, the whole of CCPM flew to Luanda for the first demobilisation ceremony. The troops were delirious with joy, and we felt a sense of euphoria.

My euphoria was short-lived. I returned to Vila Espa to receive a reprimand: the Secretary-General was displeased because the Portuguese Secretary for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, Dr Durao Barroso, had expressed concern about the adequacy of UNAVEM's resources. The Swedes had spoken similarly. It was assumed, wrongly, that this was at my instigation, when the paucity of the means granted to resolve Angola's immense problems was plain for all to see. One European Ambassador in Luanda referred to Angola as 'a footnote in the international agenda'. In CCPM, UNITA and the Government complained that Angola was being short-changed; a view supported by the Portuguese and US observers, whose governments had limited the operation in the first place! In New York the Secretary-General told the Portuguese Minister that the problems were the same everywhere, whether it was Cambodia or Yugoslavia, and his special representatives should not think they were les seuls au monde. Considering that Cambodia had a budget of US$2 billion and Yugoslavia US$600 million, compared to our paltry US$118 million, this was quite rich.

Security Council Resolution 747 (1992) of 24 March authorised the establishment of my small office, an electoral division and electoral offices in all 18 provincial capitals. We would have only 100 electoral observers, to be increased to 400 during the poll. The Angolans were to organise the elections, with UNAVEM II simply observing and verifying the process. My responsibility was to give a public verdict on whether the three phases - voter registration, the electoral campaign and the poll - were 'free and fair'. In a controversy that rumbled on for weeks Headquarters sustained that comparisons with electoral budgets for Cambodia and Namibia were invalid because in Cambodia the UN was organising the elections, and in Namibia had supervised and controlled them, while we were only to observe. I argued, without success, that the one to four difference in funding with Namibia was excessive, since Angola had ten million inhabitants and an estimated 6 million voters, compared to Namibia's population of 1.8 million and 6-700 000 voters.

My dwindling popularity in New York was not improved by the prominence given in international media to my quip about Security Council Resolution 747 - that I had been given a 747 Jumbo to fly but fuel sufficient only for a DC-3! Even authorised resources were slow in coming. Six weeks after my arrival I still had no secretary who could take English dictation. When an old friend did arrive for that function, she contracted cerebral malaria and typhus, very nearly died in my house, and was medically evacuated. My Chief Electoral Officer had to be medically evacuated after less than a month. Some delays were bureaucratic, in others the effect of the strain placed on the UN by the upsurge in peace-keeping missions.

 

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Free and Fair Elections

A UNDP team was to help the Angolans organise the elections. This project foresaw a transport element comprising four-wheel drive vehicles, and — astoundingly — 600 motorcycles, totally unsuitable for local conditions. Massive air support was essential if voters all over the country were to take part in the elections. The Angolan Government did not have the capability to provide this, much less incentive, since voters in remote areas were mainly UNITA supporters.

I concluded that the only solution was to seek contributions in kind from donors — transport (including aircraft), services, supplies and personnel. Initially even this approach received a cool response in New York. On 1 May the Secretary-General wrote me a letter that, despite expressions of admiration for my 'vigour and energy', was a thinly veiled rebuke. He instructed me to inform all concerned that member states would not approve increased resources for Angola and to discourage the Government from expecting any logistical support.

The matter was resolved only by my going to New York at the end of May. As usual I found much greater understanding when dealing directly with the Secretary-General than through written communication. I also managed to convince the Security Council, and was able to launch my 'lease-lend', 'make-do and mend' strategy. It was a huge gamble, but it worked. We eventually mounted the largest UN air operation in support of elections that the organisation had ever had anywhere, and all without any budget. We begged, we borrowed (we never actually stole!) and took every imaginative measure conceivable to ensure that the elections would reach all corners of Angola. Meanwhile, the Government was dragging its feet. It did not announce the election dates for 29-30 September until 2 April, nor appoint the National Electoral Council (NEC) and the Director-General of the Elections until 10 May, only 20 weeks before the election. Fortunately the Director-General, Dr Onofre dos Santos, was an inspired choir Brimming with ideas, he quickly re-ignited the flames of hope that had begun to flicker dangerously low.

Voter registration started on 20 May and was to end on 31 July but donors were slow in providing promised ground and air transport and by 30 June only 750 000 voters had been registered With government agreement, the process was saved by help from an unlikely quarter - the South African Air Force (SAAF) - formerly known in Angola only for its indiscriminate bombing in support of UNITA. This was a controversial move but seemed an encouraging sign of the new approaches gaining momentum in South Africa. Registration figures jumped to 4.3 million by 31 July. Thanks to an extension until 10 August, the ultimate result was 4.86 million eligible voters, or 92 per cent of an estimated voting population of 5.3 million.

The electoral campaign opened on 29 August. Twenty-five parties were legalised but there were only two real contenders, MPLA and UNITA. President Dos Santos, originally considered a poor performer on the hustings, grew into the part, presenting the calm demeanour of a moderate statesman preaching peace, unity and prosperity. Savimbi's speeches, in contrast, were fiery and colourful but his aggressive style was afterwards thought to have put many voters off.

While the electoral process was proceeding better than hoped I was greatly concerned about delays in the cantonment, disarming and demobilisation of troops. The Secretary-General's last report to the Security Council before the elections stated that only 45 per cent of government troops had been demobilised and a mere 24 per cent of UNITA's. Fear of an unknown civilian life was a factor for UNITA but our appeals to donors to fund reintegration programmes went largely unheard.

In another anachronism of the Bicesse Accords the UN was accorded no role in the formation of the new, Joint Armed Forces (FAA), but when things went wrong, we were brought in. Logistical problems played a role. I got agreement from the USA to supply tents, only to be rescinded later, because Congress had prohibits military assistance to Angola - as if tents were a lethal weapon. Portugal manufactured uniforms and airlifted them to Luanda.

It was not until June 1992 that I managed to persuade Headquarters and the Security Council to increase our police observers from 90 to 126. The establishment of joint police monitoring teams and the integration of UNITA personnel into a unified, neutral police force never got very far, despite intensive efforts by UNAVEM.

Two related crises rumbled on in CCPM, from April onwards. The government side voiced concern about UNITA's alleged 'hidden army' of 20 000 men. A joint investigation by government and UNITA representatives, UNAVEM and the Troika, failed to find any trace of it. Incomprehensibly the Government called off the hunt, while still maintaining their allegations. In early September the Foreign Minister painted me a dire picture of UNITA's intentions and demanded a large contingent of Blue Helmets - blithely forgetting that one of the main reasons why we did not have such a force was his government's opposition. Simultaneously UNITA accused the government's newly created anti-riot or emergency police force of being a 'parallel army'. My efforts to find a compromise by making it a neutral and transparent body, in which UNITA and other non-MPLA elements were adequately represented, were unsuccessful.

Another unresolved issue was the extension of the central administration. By mid-September many places remained outside government control. In others its presence consisted of one unfortunate man, dumped in an outlandish place, without offices, pay or food. There was an alarming degree of brinkmanship and cliff-hanging on both sides, though when the cliff-edge became vertiginously near, neither side wanted to take the fatal plunge while the elections were in the offing.

 

A major stumbling-block was the reluctance of the two leaders to meet each other. A 'summit', only the third since the Peace Accords, should have taken place on 24 August but Savimbi failed to appear. A deadly game of poker was being played out. When the meeting did take place on 7 September the two leaders agreed on a crucial encounter between 23 and 27 September, at which they must declare their armies to be disbanded and the FAA to be Angola's only armed force.

When I saw President Dos Santos on 23 September the date was still not fixed. Dr Savimbi was campaigning in the north and it was only on Friday 25 September that I managed to find him in Uige. I was kept hanging about for hours and then encountered a Savimbi I had heard about but never seen. He was aggressive, argument­ative, at times appearing to struggle with pent-up rage, at others rambling in a discourse consistent only in its vituperative accusations against the Government, the MPLA and President Dos Santos. He appeared impervious to my plea that he meet the President before the election. Back at Vila Espa I played my last card and, by 3.00 a.m., had arranged a satellite telephone call from the Secretary-General to Savimbi.

The next evening, Saturday 26 September, the meeting took place. Afterwards Savimbi made a conciliatory statement, much at variance with his tone the night before, which ended 'while many people think of war, we think of peace'. On Sunday a joint communiqué announced the disbandment of the two armies, and that the FAA would have two Chiefs of General Staff, one from each side. The new FAA was sworn in the next afternoon, barely 14 hours before the polls were to open. We were all moved by the sight of arms long raised against one another now raised in joint salute, the voices proclaiming their common allegiance to Angola, and the identical uniforms that made it impossible to detect who was government and who was UNITA.

Meanwhile, against all the odds, we had managed to set up a huge logistical support operation quite outside our mandate. A visit I paid to Washington, where I had high-level meetings in the Pentagon, the State Department, the National Security Council in the White House and both Houses of Congress, had greatly helped in this respect. Our greatest achievement was to assemble our air force. Both US and European donors ultimately decided the most cost-effective way was to provide cash, amounting to some US$10 million, with which we contracted Russian surplus military aircraft, the cheapest on the market. Huge Antonov-124s roared in over Luanda bringing in 40 M-17 helicopters. Ten fixed-wing planes followed. To these we added UNAVEM's own 14 helicopters and two fixed-wing planes.

Colonel Hank Morris was loaned to us from the El Salvador mission to orchestrate this mammoth operation. In all 25 000 people and 620 metric tons of materials and equipment were flown to and from 5800 voting stations from six hubs around the country but the airports could not handle the anticipated volume of traffic. At my suggestion New York asked a few countries to provide military air traffic controllers, and Argentina and Portugal obliged. We obtained Inmarsat sets to improve communications and set up a computerised control centre.

During the election days everything worked like clockwork. Luanda's airfield looked like a mini-Heathrow, with phalanxes of planes and helicopters, hastily painted white over military grey, and bearing either the UN emblem or the Angolan electoral symbol, a dove of peace. We had had our setbacks and tragedies. On three Saturdays running in September UNAVEM helicopters carrying electoral personnel crashed in the northern province of Uige. In Vila Espa it became a black joke that every Saturday we must mount a 'search and rescue' operation. Miraculously, in the first two crashes no one was killed, but in the third all but one perished.

On 29 and 30 September 1992 Angola had its two most peaceful days in 30 years. Of registered voters, 92 per cent turned out, many trudging for days through the bush, standing for hours under a hot sun, and waiting patiently through the night. Everywhere the ballot was witnessed by our electoral observers, representatives of the MPLA and UNITA and the other parties, and night-long vigil was kept over the ballot boxes. Many countries and organisations sent observers. In Sumbe I met two Americans who exclaimed, “This is textbook, absolutely textbook. We have never seen anything that so scrupulously followed the rules.” A group of Dutch observers said the same.

There was one ominous exception to the general calm. On the pretext of an attempt on Savimbi's life, UNITA guards stormed the house of a government minister in Luanda. One unfortunate policeman was shot in cold blood in the garden of my Portuguese observer colleague, Antonio Monteiro.

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Bullets not Ballots

Vote counting was slow. The main reason was excessive zeal: electoral officials and party representatives sat over more long nights, counting and recounting ballots, usually amicably. Two days after the election the two most senior UNITA representatives came to assure me they thought the elections went well.

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Their encouragement left me unprepared for Savimbi's inflammatory broadcast next day, 3 October, attacking the MPLA and the National Electoral Council (of which UNITA was a member!) and alleging fraud. It was a rambling, muddled speech, sometimes repeating UNITA's commitment to peace, sometimes calling his supporters to arms. He proclaimed it was for Angolans, not foreigners or international opinion, to decide whether the elections were honest. On Monday 4 October, UNITA generals abandoned the FAA to which they had sworn allegiance a week before.

The timing was hard to understand, for the outcome was still in doubt. The quick count system showed the President winning 49.2 per cent of the vote, and Savimbi 38.2 per cent. If correct, that meant a second round, since neither had 50 per cent. I could not release these figures because this was the first time the technique had been used in a country so large and complex, and the President's vote fell short by only 0.8 per cent; the smallest margin of error would eliminate the second round. Nonetheless, it was of the utmost urgency that I tell Dr Savimbi that a second round was possible. But Savimbi had vanished. He had left Luanda, it was said hidden in a coffin. Meanwhile, we helped the NEC set up commissions to investigate all fraud allegations, composed of representatives of all parties, including UNITA, and Angolan and UN electoral staff.

Savimbi did not resurface until 8 October, and next day I flew to Huambo. The meeting was a superb piece of theatre: his lieutenants launched a torrent of invective, thus allowing him to intervene with a voice of apparently sweet reasonableness. To escape this well-rehearsed Greek chorus, I asked to see him alone. I stressed the possibility of a second round, but also recalled his great hero, Churchill, victorious in war, but defeated in an election, who yet came back to govern, and tried to convey the key role of a leader of 'Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition'. Moreover, the man elected President would have an unenviable task: a war-devastated country; an economy to be transformed into the market mould; and an electorate filled with unrealistic expectations. An opposition leader would have an excellent chance of being elected next time - democracies, I reminded him, did not consist of one election. Savimbi appeared receptive but no doubt his mind was made up. The Secretary-General wrote to Dr Savimbi, recalling another hero of his, General De Gaulle and every plane brought more would-be mediators, among them four Permanent Representatives to the UN, sent by an alarmed Security Council; the senior members of the Troika, from Lisbon, Moscow and Washington; and Pik Botha, then South African Foreign Minister.

The arrival of the UN Ambassadors - from Cape Verde, Morocco, the Russian Federation and the United States - coincided with a large bomb explosion outside Luanda head­quarters of UNITA, who promptly took police hostages. Heavy firing continued for hours. It gave me perverse pleasure that my briefing of visitors more accustomed to deliberating in the padded confines of the Security Council chamber was interrupted by reports of incidents ever nearer our camp. The mission visited Savimbi in Huambo and met President Dos Santos and electoral officials. They left abruptly, ahead of schedule, and universally gloomy. US Ambassador Perkins exploded angrily, apparently unaware of the irony inherent in his words - “This was a UN mission done on the cheap - a totally false economy.”

On their last evening we visited Pik Botha who, fortified by a glass of whisky, almost certainly not his first, would brook no interruption or counter-argument. Savimbi had given him 'proofs' of widespread fraud and 'as an African' (the Cape Verdean Ambassador winced visibly) he could not accept a different standard of democracy from 'Western colonialist countries' - 'We are not a pile of rotten cabbages to be buggered about.' It was my turn to wince when, patronisingly patting me on the knee, he intoned, 'This lovely little lady here has been doing her best but the UN resources were inadequate.' In that he was correct. Pik Botha's interventions only muddied the waters further. South Africa was proposing a large role for Savimbi in a coalition government and the virtual scrapping of the elections. Fortunately, after a day of discussions with me, the Director-General of the Elections, and the Troika and some trying experiences with Savimbi, Pik Botha recanted, and South Africa subscribed to the international verdict that the elections had been free and fair.

The Security Council Mission had been wise to leave. The next night a huge ammunition dump, just outside our camp, exploded supposedly by accident, but later UNITA sabotage was suspected. Mortar bombs and ammunition rained down on us until dawn. I had been bidden to breakfast with Pik Botha, who had been up most of the night, watching the huge conflagration and who, ever gallant, had with difficulty been dissuaded from coming to my rescue. He had also sent his plane to Huambo in a vain attempt to bring Savimbi to meet the President.

On 16 October, the fraud investigation commission presented its findings. The unanimous conclusion, signed by everyone, including UNITA, was that there was no evidence of improper actions amounting to fraud. Everyone was relieved - until the UNITA representative insisted that he could not accept the report. As I had suspected all along, UNITA would not be satisfied by any other outcome than admission of widespread fraud.

On Saturday 17 October, the NEC announced that the MPLA had won 53.74 per cent of the vote, and 129 seats in the Congress, compared with UNITA's 34.10 per cent, and 70 seats. For the presidency, Dos Santos had obtained 49.57 per cent, Savimbi 40.07 per cent. Our quick count had been remarkably near the mark. That afternoon I declared that the elections, despite some irregularities, 'mainly due to human error and inexperience', had been 'generally free and fair', a judgement endorsed by the United States, the European Union and South Africa.

The situation could still have been saved by a second round but Savimbi would not retract. He constantly made new security conditions for meeting President Dos Santos. I readied a cordon of 'Blue Berets' to surround his aircraft and escort him but Hank Cohen, the US Troika member, and Pik Botha spent five hours in broiling heat at the airport waiting for the UNITA leader who never came. Botha reported that close colleagues of Savimbi had threatened to kill me and members of the Troika, and returned to Pretoria a sadder and wiser man. The Troika also left, after an unsuccessful visit to Savimbi. The big league of mediators flew off to the four corners of the globe, leaving us lesser mortals to wrestle with an intractable situation. The UN, originally given a walk-on part, not even 'bearing a spear', was now thrust to centre stage and I was the chief actor.

 

Formerly Dr Savimbi had called me 'the mother of the peace process'. Now Radio Vorgan attacked me viciously. I was without moral character, and had 'sold (my) honour and dignity for diamonds, industrial mercury, and for US dollars, from Jose Eduardo dos Santos.' The Secretary-General and the Security Council reacted angrily but the attacks continued, and a UNITA leader in Lobito was heard to declare that he was arranging my assassination.

Clashes were escalating everywhere but CCPM was still working. Two joint commissions were set up, one political, the other military. Savimbi sent his Vice-President, Jeremiah Chitunda, to Luanda, a relatively hopeful sign. But things were spinning out of control.

 

During the night of Friday 30 October, shooting erupted near the airport. A vital CCPM meeting was convened for Saturday but our patrols reported heavy fighting on the roads to the city. General Unimna inexplicably refused to accompany me and sent his Deputy, Brigadier Nyambuya, an excellent Zimbabwean officer. We set off in convoy and arrived safely. The meeting was one of the worst I had ever attended, both sides hurling accusations, the UNITA delegation chief, Salupeto Pena, like a man possessed, but it culminated in agreement to send joint military missions to all the areas in conflict. Each side was to order its followers to cease fighting.

The British Ambassador, John Flynn, had arranged a reconcilia­tion lunch for the leaders of the two CCPM delegations, some ambassadors and myself. I had decided not to go, because of the deteriorating situation, but in view of the agreement changed my mind. Two ambassadors were already there, but the government and UNITA representatives never did arrive. I had not finished either my gin and tonic or my account of developments when a monumental explosion reverberated in the street outside. It heralded the sanguinary battle for Luanda.

I tried in vain to get an armed police escort or helicopter back to camp. Luckily the embassy had radio communication with all European Union embassies and with the Americans, who were in hiding in their compound near Savimbi's house, threatened by UNITA. Other ambassadors were taken hostage. The British residence was dangerously positioned between UNITA below us and government forces and the Ministry of Defence above. The horrendous racket of death and destruction thundered on for 48 hours. Sometimes the explosions were so near we feared that UNITA was advancing up the hill and might know that I was in the embassy, something we were keen to keep dark, as I was a prime target.

To contact my camp I had to dash out to the forecourt, under crossfire, to use the car radio. Luckily one of the military contingents, more concerned for my safety than New York, had provided me with a flak jacket. My frustration was all the greater because General Unimna disappeared off the airwaves. During almost three days in the middle of a battle I was unable to contact my military commander. The camp was not in danger but I was concerned about the morale of the UNAVEM staff - whom equally inexplicably, neither he nor Jobarteh convened during the weekend, nor did they send any reports to Headquarters. Knowing that everyone would be glued to their radios I said that I was 'somewhere in town, trying to negotiate a ceasefire'. I could not say more for our radios were monitored by UNITA.

John Flynn and I worked ceaselessly to obtain a ceasefire. The best chance was through international intervention. I was in constant touch with the Secretary-General, John with Foreign Secretary Douglas Kurd and both of us with the US State Department (the US Mission could not communicate with Washington). Miraculously, the problematic Luanda telephone system continued to work, so we could talk to the Government and to Antonio Monteiro, who was in touch with Lisbon. During Saturday night and all of Sunday the messages flew back and forth, the Secretary-General speaking several times to the President, everyone trying, without success, to reach Savimbi, hidden away in the central highlands.

None of us knew which side had the upper hand or how long the grim battle would last. When I lay down briefly in the small hours of Sunday morning I felt fear for the first time, convinced that none of us would survive. A knock at the door announcing a call from the Secretary-General at 3.00 a.m. was a welcome relief. Not so a briefing by the British military attaché on the game plan if the worst came to the worst. In the ambassador's office he said, 'This is where we make our last stand. The ambassador has a pistol, I have a pistol, and so does Sigi.' Sigi, a gentle giant, was my UN security guard, an Icelandic policeman who had never fired a shot in anger.

On Sunday morning Salupeto Pena, obviously deranged, was screaming murderous threats against the Portuguese, the UN and all white people. At last, at noon, we got through to Savimbi on his satellite radio. John did the negotiating, given UNITA's attitude to me. For over an hour Savimbi, rambling and incoherent, ranged over every subject under the sun - Munich, Churchill, Nasser and the Jews, the US election, his Bantu heritage, his childhood. He was obsessed with his own safety, oblivious to the hundreds of his fellow citizens being killed with every moment lost in this self-regarding exercise. John finally got him to accept a ceasefire. Savimbi, who did not know that I was beside John, asked him to 'tell Miss Anstee that I will apologise personally for the attacks on her ... what Vorgan said did not have my approval, I repudiate it strongly ... Those words upset me particularly for such a civilised lady

Negotiations to get the Government's agreement went on for hours. The Secretary-General spoke to the President, who wanted a delay so that his generals could meet me. His most alarming condition was that I must personally accept responsibility for Savimbi's good faith, a tall order indeed.

The ceasefire was finally agreed minutes before midnight, but sporadic shooting continued through the night. It was not until early Monday afternoon that I could return to camp. An armed convoy took me to the Ministry of Defence, whence a government military helicopter flew me over the silent and devastated city. There had been a last moment of drama at the Ministry of Defence when a trigger-happy soldier had to be restrained because he thought I was Salupeto Pena trying to escape - a far-fetched case of mistaken identity. In fact, Salupeto Pena was already dead, killed, together with UNITA's Vice-President Chitunda, as they tried to flee.

 

Thousands more died on both sides during that dreadful battle, and mutual vengeance killings continued long after. A high-level meeting between the two sides was of extreme urgency.

I was in frequent touch with President Dos Santos and more sporadically with Savimbi, who tended to switch his satellite off, or claim he 'was too ill with flu to speak', when, if well-substantiated rumour was to be believed, he was in Zaire exploring possibilities of military assistance. His conversation was of the muddled 'stream-of-consciousness' variety, and he usually called in the middle of the night. He apologised eloquently for the attacks on me, which he described as 'faithless, baseless and undiplomatic', and again voiced concerns for his own security. His reiterated commitment to dialogue and peace had a hollow ring as UNITA was running amok all over the country, reoccupying municipalities everywhere.

The Secretary-General sent Mig Goulding to help me. On 7 November we met President Dos Santos who, in an extraordinary volte-face, stressed that only a much-strengthened UNAVEM, with a far-reaching mandate and 'Blue Helmets', could salvage peace. Our request to see Dr Savimbi being constantly put off, we took the initiative and flew to Huambo on Tuesday 10 November. We were left cooling our heels in the UNAVEM camp until, well after dark, a dilapidated car arrived with two UNITA Generals. Fearing a plan to take us hostage, as bargaining pawns, or to ambush us and blame the government, we organised a convoy of every available UN vehicle, each flying a large flag.

The UNITA Generals led this cavalcade far out into the countryside, where we found Savimbi surrounded by saturnine, heavily armed guards, in a dimly lit, malodorous cottage. An even stranger feature were shelves piled with pink-cheeked plastic dolls with piercing blue eyes and tinselly golden hair, beaming down on the grim scene, like a galaxy of misplaced cherubs. Our meeting went on for four hours. Savimbi was in discursive mood, and we were treated to a canter through ancient history, while Churchill and De Gaulle were also given an airing. Mig said bluntly, 'You have two choices: war or dialogue.'

Savimbi replied, 'I will never lead a war. I prefer to retire. War solves nothing.'

Mig departed for New York with the message from both sides that a much stronger UN mandate and presence were required, including 'Blue Helmets'.

Negotiations to Restore Peace

By dint of further negotiation and another visit to Huambo I persuaded both sides to meet in Namibe, in southern Angola, on 26 November. Unimna and Jobarteh refused to accompany me, however, fearing failure and an outbreak of shooting. The meeting ended in bear hugs and a joint 'Declaration of Namibe' in which both sides reaffirmed the Bicesse Accords, their firm intention to honour the ceasefire, their wish that UNAVEM's mandate be enlarged and their desire to meet again as soon as possible.

But less than three days later, UNITA forces captured Uige and Negage, important northern towns. In the fighting a grenade landed on the UNAVEM camp and killed a Brazilian police observer. We were back to square one.

The Secretary-General called me to New York, where I arrived on 9 December. Dr Boutros-Ghali tried unsuccessfully to arrange a meeting with President Dos Santos and Dr Savimbi in Geneva, and on 22 December the President of the Security Council issued an anodyne statement, long on appeals but short on action. Mean­while, instead of being strengthened, UNAVEM was dwindling as contingents completed their tour and were not replaced.

My own future was under discussion, as the seven months had now become ten. In the middle of 1992 the Secretary-General asked me to go to Mozambique after the Angolan election as his special representative there. I had agreed, provided the errors of inadequate mandate and resources that had undermined the Angolan process were remedied, and had provided Headquarters with specific suggestions. An acting special representative was sent to Maputo to hold the fort until I could leave Angola. In December, however, the Secretary-General asked me to continue in Angola for another year. I explained that for personal reasons I could not accept a long commitment, but promised to remain until a replacement could be found. We agreed on 28 February 1993 as a target date. I never got to Mozambique, but my suggestions were acted upon, the Mozambique operation learned from the mistakes in Angola and was a success.

I had hoped to spend Christmas at Knill, but Christmas Day, a special anniversary for UNITA, was regarded as ominous. As it happened, there was a lull in the fighting. I organised a lunch for my closest collaborators, Sissy presented a sizzling hot turkey (a frozen one from Windhoek) on a sizzling hot day, and we shared a very small Christmas pudding and some mince pies. On New Year's Eve we had a party, but my best memory is of an hour spent on the Ilha watching the sun sink into the ocean and then, as the shadows deepened, a night heron fishing in the wavelets lapping the shore.

There had been progress in December over UNITA's withdrawal from Uige and Negage, and on Christmas Eve I gave the two leaders a draft proposal on UNAVEM's future role as the basis for a Security Council decision. My life was made easier by Goulding's decision to remove Unimna. His replacement was Brigadier Nyambuya of Zimbabwe with whom I had excellent relations. Together we recommended the immediate despatch of a Ghanaian company of 'Blue Helmets' that we knew to be available, to help meet UNITA's almost paranoid security concerns, but we were turned down by New York. The Government was now blaming the UN for every­thing. On 22 December the Foreign Minister told me aggressively that my reputation and that of the UN was at stake if we did not force UNITA to withdraw, something that was impossible without 'Blue Helmets', which he simultaneously declared were unacceptable.

Media comments about myself were laden with sexual innuendo. The Jornal de Angola named me one of the Top Ten Personalities of the Year, but in the caption below my photograph lurked a little bracket 'although it was rumoured that she was Salupeto Pena's mistress'. An even more amazing canard rumoured that the real reason for my visit to New York had been to have an abortion, the progenitor of the baby, it was whispered, being none other than Savimbi. On hearing these absurd slanders my Filipino secretary rolled her eyes in mock admiration: 'Miss Anstee, we are all wondering, how do you find the time?'

 

I met Savimbi in Huambo for two hours on Saturday 2 January 1993. I had rarely seen him in such an amenable mood, which caused me to speculate about the underlying motives. I returned to Luanda with some faintly encouraging proposals for high-level military contacts, as well as another Namibe meeting. In Vila Espa an urgent summons awaited me to see Foreign Minister De Moura. I was received with French champagne (pink, and profuse), and apologies for the inaccessibility of himself and the President over Christmas. The Government, too, wanted a Namibe II meeting, which I agreed to arrange for the next week.

But early next morning, Sunday 3 January, government forces attacked UNITA in Lubango. It was not until evening that I managed to locate the Foreign Minister who gave a long wail of despair, apparently unaware of what was afoot. The next day UNITA captured 200 FAA troops whom the Government had sent to Uige at our request.

 

During January war spread like wildfire. UNITA gained the upper hand and their forces were so close to Luanda that people began to think the hitherto unthinkable - the capital might be besieged. We launched demarches at every level, in a last-ditch effort to restore a ceasefire and new negotiations. We had also to protect our personnel. Slit trenches were dug in all our camps, reminding me of wartime schooldays, and contingency plans drawn up for evacuation. Those for the whole mission included a distinctly unappealing journey of several days by barge to the nearest port outside Angolan waters, if airports were closed. Embassies booked more comfortable vessels but we had to be 'the last to leave.'

Our plan for internal evacuation became quickly obsolete. Fighting escalated so rapidly that all our field stations and regional commands were in grave danger. Their withdrawal to Luanda and the coastal belt was achieved without loss of life in a superb air operation. The most dramatic exodus was from Huambo, where our camp was caught in crossfire. Several UNAVEM staff were injured; one, with a bullet lodged dangerously near his heart, lay in an open slit trench, under torrential rain, for two days, without qualified medical attention. On 14 January a convoy of 29 UN vehicles, which also rescued NGO staff, managed to reach an airfield. One old lady, seeing the convoy leave, embraced the Regional Commander and, with tears in her eyes, said, 'Now our troubles will really begin.' Months later, UN auditors criticised us because much equipment remained behind. I could not resist the caustic comment that they should be asked to rewrite their report in a slit trench, under crossfire and pouring rain.

Savimbi continued to call me up late at night. In one of these kilometric monologues, on 6 January, he implored me to consider myself 'a mother', who should not abandon her children 'even when they break plates' (an odd analogy for thousands of deaths). He urged me to find a place where the military leaders could meet. We got agreement on Addis Ababa, but then Savimbi disappeared off the airwaves. On 20 January he broke his silence in a BBC interview in which he questioned my trustworthiness as a negotiator, yet another volte-face.

We were in an impasse until 22 January. At 2 a.m. a UNITA representative called to say peremptorily that the Addis Ababa meeting should take place from 27 to 30 January. There was no explanation of the long silence, or how they traced me to Lisbon where I unexpectedly had to spend the night owing to a flight delay.

(select here for the second part of this document - "Impasse in Addis Ababa")

 

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