Angola signs peace with Cabinda separatist faction

A separatist rebel faction from Angola’s oil-producing northern Cabinda province signed a peace deal with the central government on Tuesday, which gives special status to the restive coastal enclave.

Separatists led by the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (Flec) have fought for independence since Portugal relinquished control over Angola in 1975.

Cabinda accounts for more than half the crude output in Angola, which is sub-Saharan Africa’s second largest oil producer after Nigeria.

”Today we turn the page on a sad chapter in our history. The peace deal we have just signed is irreversible,” Antonio Bento Bembe, who signed for an umbrella group of rebel movements, said at a colourful ceremony in the southern coastal town of Namibe.

Bembe heads the Cabindan Forum for Dialogue, which has been negotiating for the separatists at talks brokered by the Congo, which is on Cabinda’s northern border.

However, the separatist movement is notoriously fractured and some other leaders have questioned his authority.

The deal signed on Tuesday follows the Angolan Parliament’s passing of an amnesty law covering the Cabinda conflict, and is a formal version of a ceasefire signed on July 15 in Congo’s capital Brazzaville.

Angola’s Territorial Administration Minister Virgilio Ferreira de Fontes Pereira signed for the government in a lively ceremony followed by a feast of roast pork and lobster to the beat of drumming and dancing by bare-breasted women.

”Cabinda will be granted a special status which respects Angola’s territorial integrity, because Cabinda Province is an integral part of Angola,” Pereira said at the ceremony in Namibe, 700k south of the capital Luanda.

The special status gives the Cabinda provincial government additional powers, including greater control over the region’s oil-rich economy and other functions normally reserved for central government.

Cabinda, which lies north of the main part of Angola sandwiched between the Congo and Democratic Republic of Congo, has played a key role in Angola’s rising prominence as an oil supplier.

The insurgency has forced oil firms such as Chevron to take strict security precautions, especially during Angola’s long-running wider civil war in which Cuban troops helping the then Marxist MPLA government guarded installations against attacks by Unita rebels backed by apartheid South Africa.

Analysts say peace in Cabinda would not greatly affect current output, but it would allow more on-shore exploration.

National Assembly President Roberto de Almeida, representing Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, welcomed Tuesday’s signature as a new start for his country.

”All sons and daughters of Angola should join hands, forget their sometimes tragic pasts and pull together towards national unity and a better tomorrow for the Angolan people,” he said. – Reuters

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