New Zealand Army personnel deployed to Angola as a United Nations observers and demining advisers for several years from 1992.
Angola had been granted independence from Portugal in 1975 and was taken over by MPLA forces a year later. Unita forces began waging guerrilla warfare against the MPLA. Peace talks began in 1990 and the following year a cease-fire agreement was signed by MPLA and the Unita forces.
The United Nations set up a peacekeeping mission called the United Nations Angola Verification mission to monitor compliance with the peace plan, but when the MPLA won parliamentary elections in September 1992, Unita withdrew its forces from the national Army, accusing the Government of electoral fraud. By the end of the year civil war was again raging across the country.
Many of the Kiwis were based in the Unita rebel stronghold, Quibaxe, 200km northeast of Luanda. Their task was to convince hostile factions to allow the recently elected government to operate within its area and get it administratively on its feet.
There was relative optimism at first. Soon, however, optimism began to plummet as Unita became suspicious about certain government activities.
UN teams including New Zealanders investigated Unita claims. They (Unita) claimed people were pushing locals out of their homeland and taking over villages, so UN observers spent a lot of time travelling to investigate and get an accurate picture of what was going on.
Further UN-brokered peace negotiations began, and yet another peace agreement was signed between the Angolan Government and Unita in 1994. NZDF personnel continued to support the peace plan, providing military observers as well as a team of de-mining training instructors.
Former NZ Army officer Lieutenant Colonel Andy Morris led a United Nations team made up of several nationalities, including soldiers from Bangladesh, South America and from other African states. When UN sanctions were threatened affecting foreign exchange, travel and aircraft movement more concessions were made by Unita.
There were power struggles going on with Unita with moderates prepared to take a more co-operative approach and encourage peace.
“They wanted peace and could see opportunities for business and improving their lives, while the more hard-headed Unita members were always complaining to us about what they saw the Government doing. There was a real struggle going on about what kind of policies should prevail.”
The war, he said, had devastated what was a large, very fertile country with a relatively small population.
Always unarmed, LTCOL Morris said he never felt personally threatened or intimidated, although lawlessness was common and other UN observers had been robbed and shot at.
He was safely distant from any inter-faction fighting, although one Brazilian UN soldier was killed by what was termed a “bandit” and others threatened during his deployment.
New Zealanders, he said, were held in high regard by Angolan locals because they put so much effort into negotiation and building trust and “because we had no axe to grind.”
This page was last amended on 18 March 2015