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Thursday, January 28, 1999 Published at 18:26 GMT

Angola's forgotten conflict

Praying for peace in Luanda

By BBC Africa Correspondent Jane Standley in Luena

After four years of supposed peace - while intermittent fighting continued - Angola is once again consumed by all-out war.

Jane Standley reports from Luena on the slide back to war
A peace agreement signed in 1994 by the Angolan government and the Unita rebels has collapsed - the UN troops who came to monitor the peace are to be withdrawn. The UN says they can't stay to watch over war.

Angola, it seems, is to be abandoned again. There has been civil war since 1974 - when the colonial power Portugal pulled out in a hurry. Before then, Angolans fought the Portuguese colonisers for 13 years. It adds up to more than three decades of conflict - the majority of Angolans have known nothing but war and loss.

'Almost every Angolan I met has lost someone'

The ticket office at the railway station in Luena - the most heavily mined region of what is one of the most heavily mined countries in the world - doesn't sell tickets any more.

[ image: Jane Standley]
Jane Standley
In fact, it hasn't sold any for a while - the last train ran through here 15 years ago. But the ticket office is being put to good use - Antonio Seneco and his family live in it.

Antonio's wife Andreza raises their family of five in this one room - they consider themselves lucky to have escaped intact from the war in the countryside. Well, almost intact.

Antonio lost both his legs to a landmine just after he arrived in what he thought was the safety of Luena, the provincial capital of Moxico province and as such defended by the government army. But at least none of his family was killed.

[ image:  ]
Almost every Angolan I met has lost someone. Fifty thousand people have fled into Luena in the past few weeks of Angola's new war - walking through the positions of the Unita rebels who have the city surrounded, and through the circles of land mines laid by both the rebels and the government.

There is a mine planted for every Angolan man, woman and child. It played on my mind with each step that I took.

'Angola's curse is to be too rich'

The Angolan government still uses a slogan from its days of Marxist revolution - A Luta Continua - the struggle continues. It certainly does for almost all Angolans.

[ image: A victim of Angola's mines: The country is one of the most heavily mined in the world]
A victim of Angola's mines: The country is one of the most heavily mined in the world
After three decades of war, most have known nothing else. The refugee families are shy and embarrassed. There is no human dignity sliding around in filth in the disintegrating compartments of the railway carriages. I leave them in peace.

I felt what so many other visitors had told me you always feel in Angola - extreme anger. Angola's curse is to be just too rich - to have such a lot to fight over.

There are fields of diamonds and oil here, rich agricultural land in which anything grows. But because of the war, no ordinary Angolan is harvesting the wealth.

Everyone wants a part of it though - and the chaos of war is providing the opportunity for some to loot it. The Unita rebels take the diamonds, senior members of the government skim off millions from the oil deals.

I hear the argument frequently, that there are people who want the fighting to go on for another 30 years - because corruption is easier when there's a war on.

'Everyone believes it's just a matter of time'

I am lucky. Unlike the Angolans I've met, I have a ride out of Luena. By air. The small plane had plunged through the clouds from high over the besieged city on the way in.

[ image: As the country moves back onto a war footing, young Angolans sign up to fight]
As the country moves back onto a war footing, young Angolans sign up to fight
The United Nations has had two planes shot down in the past few weeks - their aircraft now drop like thunderbolts to limit the time spent over the front line. My heart had been in my mouth - followed by my stomach.

The refugees from the countryside try every day to fight their way onto the terrifying flights to try to get out of Luena - before the shelling begins. Everyone here believes it's just a matter of time - the Unita rebels are within easy range - the city has been bombarded before - once for 45 continuous days.

Climbing aboard I feel the anger again - and the terrible guilt of leaving.

Angola's war is a largely forgotten war - its intractability has driven many mediators away, consumed by frustration. But its people must not be forgotten.

It is not just Angola's natural resources which are worth fighting for.

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In this section

Angola's forgotten conflict

Profile: Jonas Savimbi, Unita's local boy

Special report: The Angolan conflict

Fuelling the war: Diamonds and oil

Angola: The roots of conflict

Landmines: War's deadly legacy