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Forced displacements and increasing violence

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At the end of 1998, after the few years of relative peace that followed the Lusaka Agreements, war began again in Angola. Since December 1998, displaced people have flooded into those cities controlled by the government , whilst others have sought refuge in neighbouring countries .

These population movements occurred in several waves, each marking the most violent episodes of confrontation between the Angolan Armed Forces (FAA) and Unita. This massive movement of displaced people considerably inflated the population of the cities in which MSF is present.

Kuito, for example, currently has 240,000 inhabitants, of which 130,000 are displaced (MSF, October 2000). In Uige, there are over 55,000 displaced in a total population of approximately 146,000. In Kaala, MSF estimates the displaced to number nearly 24,000, of which 12,000 live in camps, in a population of approximately 80,000 people.

MSF has opened programmes to assist the displaced populations in 27 sites in Kuito (Bié Province), in three sites in Luena (Moxico Province), in six sites in Matala (Huila Province) and in five sites in Kaala (Huambo Province) - three of which are in the city and two in camps outside.

According to the Angolan authorities, all those displaced persons now in the government zones were forced to flee their homes because of Unita. It is difficult for the displaced populations to publicly refute this claim - they instead speak of fleeing "the enemy "or "those in the mata "(the bush). But the individual stories of displaced, collected by MSF in Kaala, Kuito and Malange from April to October 2000 show that siding with the government was seen as the only solution, a choice to survive more than a deliberate choice to join - or to flee - one or the other warring parties.

The massive displacements that have taken place in Angola since December 1998 were carried out in a forced way, in a climate of increasing violence. Shunted from one side to another, the populations have been deliberately manipulated by the warring parties.

Forced displacement temoignage

The displaced populations did not only flee conflict zones, they were also used and manipulated by the two warring parties who wished to remove the population from a zone controlled by the other side or to completely cleanse a zone of any enemy presence. The accounts collected by MSF teams also refer to the forced conscription of men.

Displacement of civilians is thus being used as a war tactic. The desire to control the population is often accompanied by acts of punishment and reprisals on any individuals who remained in zones controlled by the enemy.

With each offensive of the government, Unita moved and took all the people along with it. It is the tactics of Unita! Each time, we went where they told us to go. Indeed, there had to be nobody left behind because any lost person was a person more for the government!

Displaced person from Huambo Province

Unita was going to take the people from my village into the mata when FAA came. FAA told us to come with them to Loquembo, so we went with them. When evening came, they indicated an area and told us to sleep. Then Unita attacked and FAA fled. Unita captured me and 19 other young men, along with five women.

They bound our arms behind our backs and took us away. When we got to a bridge over a rushing river, they shot us (not the girls - they took with them) and pushed us in the water, our arms still tied. I was shot in the backside ... somehow I managed to get out of the river. I was the only survivor. I broke my binds and walked alone to Loquembo.

Displaced person from Malange Province

I was sleeping at home with my family, when at around 4 am, 12 men from Unita entered the house and took me along with them. We walked for half an hour. I did not say anything, nor did I try to resist. They told me to sit down on my knees and put my hand on a tree trunk on the ground. Three men held me while a fourth struck me on my forearm with a machete. At the second blow, my forearm fell on the ground.

They told me to get up and they did the same thing with my brother. The soldiers said: "This is because government troops reached Belo Horizonte and you wanted to join them. Now we have cut your hands and you will not be able to do it". After having mutilated my brother, they said to us: "Now, go where you wanted to go. Join the MPLA!"

Displaced person from Bié Province

The 'tropa' [common name for government army] returned to the town and ordered people to get in the cars if they didn't want to be killed. We did what we were told! There were several families in the 'tropa' vans which drove us to Kaala.