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Update no. 98/01 on ICRC activities in Angola in response to the resumption of hostilities

23-12-1998 Operational Update

On 5 December 1998, the tension which has been simmering over the last few months between the government and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) erupted into warfare. The fighting was most intense around the central highlands of Angola, particularly in the vicinity of Huambo and Kuito. Fighting also took place north-east of the Huila province.

Renewed fighting has seriously deteriorated the security situation. All expatriates had to be pulled out of Kuito. In other conflict areas, the number of expatriate staff was reduced to a strict minimum. Furthermore, increased insecurity has restricted the use of several roads around the country and curtailed travel between rural areas and major towns. Presently, the ICRC has active staff (150 locally hired employees and 20 expatriates) in Luanda, Lobito, Huambo and Bailundo.

The ICRC remains in daily contact with representatives of the Angolan authorities, the United Nations, NGOs and the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement in order to share information and coordinate the humanitarian response. Through its continued presence in Bailundo, the ICRC maintains permanent contact with representatives of UNITA.

 Humanitarian Situation  

Access to conflict areas has been difficult owing to the deterioration in the security situation. Information on the humanitarian situation given bellow will have to be confirmed, revised or fine tuned, depending on the results of assessment missions presently under way. From experience in Angola, it is evident that the war-wounded, internally displaced and persons deprived of their freedom will have to be assisted in the very near future.

 Kuito  

Kuito cannot be reached for the time being. However, the ICRC remains in daily contact with the 9 local employees working at the ICRC sub-delegation.

The town is virtually besieged and an aircraft chartered by the government was shot down in the surrounding area on 14 December. Looting has occurred and the stocks of some humanitarian agencies were ransacked. On the other hand, some food and medical stocks were spared. The situation in Kuito remains tense and is still very worrying.

An estimated number of 40,000 newly displaced persons have arrived in Kuito. These displaced persons are in addition to those who already reside in Kuito. From the remaining stocks, distributions of food rations to the newly displaced have started. Furthermore, 90 persons from rural areas, with major war injuries and 50 others with minor war injuries were admitted to the Kuito hospital. It appears that there are, for the time being, sufficient food and medical stocks on the spot to cover the first emergency needs.

 Huambo  

Although there has not been any fighting in Huambo, the population lives in fear and is very concerned. Food as well as medical stocks in Huambo are available to respond to immediate humanitarian needs.

Some 30,000 newly displaced persons have fled to this town. It should be noted that nearly 100,000 displaced persons already lived in Huambo before the newest hostilities broke out. The newly displaced found refuge in places of worship, among relatives or in abandoned buildings. Distributions of food rations and other relief goods to the newly displaced have also started. So far, no civilian casualties have been reported. Th e ICRC is conducting a closer assessment of the overall humanitarian situation.

 Other Areas  

Approximately 20,000 internally displaced have also assembled in Malange and Luena in the north and east of the country. The ICRC is also assessing the humanitarian needs in this area and is ready to provide immediate ad-hoc assistance.

 ICRC Humanitarian Response  

Preliminary evaluations indicate that there are shortages in the non-food relief sector, particularly tarpaulins, blankets, jerrycans, pots, soap and logistical means. These items, valued at approximately US$ 600,000, have been mobilized and are being conveyed to Angola from the ICRC logistical bases in Nairobi and Geneva. Other relief goods may have to be mobilized at a later stage. Two logistics officers will go to the field before Christmas in order to receive incoming relief goods and organize their immediate dispatch to the field.

As a further response to the emergency, the ICRC airlifted specialized emergency medical supplies into Huambo and an additional 7 tonnes of essential drugs provided by the German Red Cross Society. In fact, the German Red Cross Society had to temporarily suspend its bilateral project on medical support to hospitals and health centres in Bailundo owing to insecurity.

When the peace process began more than four years ago, the ICRC responded to the new situation by gradually reducing its activities throughout the country. It mainly focused on permanent tasks, such as the dissemination of humanitarian law, protection and tracing, and orthopedic programmes. In this context, an average of 130 patients are fitted with prostheses every month in the two Ministry of Health - ICRC orthopedic centres in Huambo and Kuito.

In view of the new emergency, the ICRC has started to distribute medical and other relief goods. The ICRC will also continue to carry out evaluation missions to conflict areas which are presently accessible. When necessary, it will distribute medical and relief assistance. The ICRC has also put a team on standby to assess areas which are presently off limits owing to security reasons, in particular Kuito. The team will begin action as soon as the necessary security guarantees are given by the parties to the conflict.