At the time Angola emerged, in 1975, from its status as a Portuguese colony, the guerrilla war for independence had gone on for almost 15 years. In January 1975, the Portuguese Government sought to establish a programme for transition to independence in talks at Alvor, Portugal, with three separate Angolan liberation movements: the Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola (MPLA), the Frente Nacional de Libertação de Angola (FNLA) and the União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola (UNITA).

The agreement forged at Alvor soon fell apart, and the three groups fought one another with support from a variety of international sources, including Cuba, South Africa, the Soviet Union and the United States. South Africa sent troops to Angola opposing MPLA; MPLA, in turn, was backed by the Soviet Union and Cuba. MPLA emerged as the strongest of the three groups and, on 11 November 1975, established the People's Republic of Angola. FNLA's military importance subsequently dwindled, but UNITA continued to field troops, particularly in the countryside. The Soviet Union and Cuba maintained their support for MPLA, while UNITA received backing from South Africa and the United States.

The first United Nations Angola Verification Mission (UNAVEM), later known as UNAVEM I, came about in a climate of declining cold-war rivalries as one aspect of intricate international negotiations on political arrangements throughout the region. While the negotiations were long and difficult and covered a range of issues, UNAVEM I accomplished its mandate in an atmosphere of cooperation. It was mandated by the Security Council to carry out a relatively straightforward assignment: monitoring the withdrawal of Cuban forces from Angola.

1. Establishment of UNAVEM

The establishment of UNAVEM I in December 1988 resulted from a complex international diplomatic process which culminated in agreements on both the implementation of Security Council resolution 435 (1978), leading to the independence of Namibia, and the withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola. On 22 December 1988, Angola, Cuba and South Africa signed, at a ceremony at United Nations Headquarters, an agreement aimed at bringing peace to south-western Africa. The agreement provided for the implementation of a United Nations plan for the independence of Namibia, the withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola, and measures to achieve peace in the region. Angola and Cuba also signed an agreement on the staged and total withdrawal of the 50,000 Cuban troops from Angola - a condition for South Africa's acceptance of the independence plan for Namibia.

On 17 December, prior to, but contingent upon, the signature of the two agreements described above, Cuba and Angola requested the Secretary-General to recommend to the Security Council the establishment of a United Nations military observer group. Its task would be to verify compliance with the bilateral agreement, in accordance with the arrangements which had already been agreed between the two countries and the Secretariat. On the same day, the Secretary-General issued a report containing his recommendations on how this task might be carried out. On 20 December, by resolution 626 (1988), the Security Council approved the Secretary-General's report and decided to establish UNAVEM for a period of 31 months, i.e., until one month after the planned completion of Cuban troop withdrawal on 1 July 1991. The necessary arrangements came into effect on 22 December when the tripartite and bilateral agreements between Angola, Cuba and South Africa were signed. Shortly thereafter, in a parallel move, the Security Council established the United Nations Transition Assistance Group in Namibia.

2. Verification of Withdrawal

UNAVEM I became operational on 3 January 1989, when an advance party of 18 military observers arrived in Luanda to verify the departure on 10 January of the first 450 Cuban soldiers. Thereafter the strength of the Mission rose to 70 military observers. Military observer teams verified and recorded all movements of Cuban military personnel and equipment into and out of Angola, in particular in the ports of Cabinda, Lobito, Luanda and Namibe, and Luanda airport. UNAVEM I's mobile teams also confirmed Cuban redeployment, in accordance with the agreed plan, northwards from all locations south of the adjusted 13th parallel. After the completion of this redeployment from the southern part of Angola, the observer strength was reduced to 60.

In general, the provisions of the Angolan-Cuban agreement were scrupulously complied with and the withdrawal proceeded at a rate slightly ahead of the projected figures. On 22 May 1991, the Secretary-General was notified of the decision taken by the Governments of Angola and Cuba to complete the withdrawal more than one month before the scheduled date. Consequently, on 25 May, UNAVEM I witnessed the ceremony to mark the completion of the withdrawal from Angola of all-Cuban troops and concomitant military equipment.

On 6 June 1991, the Secretary-General reported to the Security Council that UNAVEM had carried out its mandate fully and effectively. He thanked the Governments of Angola and Cuba for their decision to complete the withdrawal ahead of schedule, thus allowing UNAVEM to concentrate its resources on the new tasks assigned by the Security Council in resolution 696 (1991) of 30 May 1991. The Secretary-General observed that the "success of UNAVEM again demonstrates what can be achieved by a United Nations peacekeeping operation when it receives the full cooperation of the parties concerned."


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