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History, War and Independence

Frente Nacional, Jonas Savimbi, Savimbi, President dos Santos, Cuban troops

The nationalists, however, were split into three rival groups: the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (Frente Nacional de Libertacao de Angola, or FNLA), the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (Movimento Popular de Libertacao de Angola, or MPLA), and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (Uniao Nacional para a Independencia Total de Angola, or UNITA). All three had armed forces in the field, but none made much headway until the revolution in Portugal in April 1974. After that, the whole Portuguese colonial empire began to fall apart. The new Lisbon regime agreed to a transfer of power, and on November 11, 1975, Angola became independent. Two governments claimed to represent the new nation, one formed by the MPLA in Luanda, the other by UNITA and FNLA in Huambo. The ensuing civil war assumed international overtones: The MPLA was armed by the USSR and aided by Cuban troops, while some Western powers and South Africa allied themselves with the FNLA/UNITA coalition and its leader, Jonas Savimbi. By early 1976 the MPLA had gained the upper hand, and its government, with MPLA leader Agostinho Neto as president, was gradually recognized throughout the world.

Neto died in 1979, and leadership of the nation was assumed by Jose Eduardo dos Santos. Although the FNLA surrendered to the government in 1984, UNITA continued to wage guerrilla warfare against the MPLA, supported militarily by South Africa and the United States. South Africa was also battling the Angolan government over control of Namibia. In August 1988 a peace agreement was reached between Angola, South Africa, and Cuba that granted independence to Namibia and ended Cuban and South African military involvement in the Angolan civil war. The U.S. government continued to send aid to UNITA, but also pushed forward diplomatic efforts to end the conflict. In March 1991 the two sides signed a peace accord providing for a cease-fire and the legalization of all political parties by May. President dos Santos called for multiparty elections to be held in September 1992, and a United Nations (UN) peacekeeping force maintained order.

Tensions and small skirmishes arose just before the election, however. When the MPLA emerged with the majority of seats in parliament (129 of 220) and dos Santos received 49.6 percent of the vote, Savimbi rejected the results as fraudulent, refused to participate in the runoff election, and resumed the war at an even deadlier level. In 1993 the United States and other foreign powers officially ended their support of the warring factions. Daily relief flights by the UN World Food Program were required to avert mass starvation throughout the country, as most of Angola’s resources went toward weapons and other war costs. By the end of 1994 an estimated 3.6 million Angolans were war refugees, and 500,000 people had been killed.

Article key phrases:

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