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Angola's pretence of normality hides manipulation, violence, and a neglected population.

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Luanda - As Angola prepares to celebrate 25 years of independence on November 11, a report by the international medical aid organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) denounces the state of neglect in which the people of Angola are forced to live.

Ever since hostilities were renewed in the country at the end of 1998, the Angolan population has been literally targeted and exploited by the parties to the conflict.

Witness accounts gathered by MSF teams in Kuito, Malanje and Kaala describe how the civilian population has been repeatedly subject to forced displacements, abuses and acts of violence by the two parties to the conflict, UNITA and the Angolan Armed Forces. And yet the Angolan Government continues to speak in terms of the "normalization" of the situation.

"This apparently reassuring official line in fact hides a very different reality: a genuine disaster is taking place," says Christopher Stokes, MSF's Head of Mission in Angola. "Contrary to the fictitious official line that is given out by the government, and accepted in turn by the international community and the United Nations, the situation in Angola is far from being "normal." The people are being very cruelly afflicted by the renewal of hostilities, which have reached a new level of violence." In the nine provinces in which it is currently operating, MSF has noted:

A worsening of the violence and the institution of a policy of terror against the people

For two years, the people have been forcibly displaced by the two parties to the conflict, which have used them as part of their war strategies. The people have also suffered increased and indiscriminate violence (murder, mutilation, rape) at the hands of the two protagonists, and a genuine policy of terror has been instituted against them.

A serious deterioration in the medical and nutritional situation among the people, and the withdrawal of the Angolan authorities from the health system. For two years, MSF teams have been noticing a significant increase in the number of people injured by weapons and mines. At Kuito, 74.4% of surgical operations are emergency cases due to the war. Since hostilities were renewed, massive population displacements in the towns have led to a particularly serious food crisis, and MSF has had to open 26 emergency nutritional centers.

At Kaala, in March 2000, MSF noted 20.5% global malnutrition among the displaced population. At the same time, the Angolan authorities are demonstrating a lack of interest in the health care of the population. The level of investment in the health system is ludicrous, and the presence of medical services is nonexistent. Although Angola exports 800,000 barrels of oil per day, there is no oil to fuel hospital generators. At Kuito, for example, 1.2% of the needs of the provincial hospital are catered for by the Ministry of Health. There is only one doctor in the entire province of Moxico.

The Neglect of a Large Portion of the Population

The renewal of hostilities has forced MSF to pull out of several provinces and to close 18 projects. Today, MSF is able to work only in provincial capitals or in a few major towns in districts lying within Government-controlled areas.

Beyond perimeters that lie between 5 and 30 kilometers from the towns and are supposed to be secure, the roads and fields are mostly mined, and prone to attacks. Beyond these very restricted perimeters, MSF now has no access to a large part of the country, and Unita continues to deny access to the population under its control.

It is within this context that the United Nations has for two years completely renounced all efforts to demand access to these regions. The MSF report shows how the situation is not just the consequence of war, but the outcome of deliberate choices on the part of the two parties to the conflict.

On the one hand, they have chosen to renounce their responsibilities with regard to health care, and on the other hand, they have chosen to use the population in their war strategy. For more detailed information regarding the situation in Angola, read the MSF report: Behind the façade of 'normalization' Manipulation, violence, and abandoned populations