Angola has been at war with itself for more than 30 years. On a late Sunday afternoon these girls in frilly dresses and boys in clean shirts could be mistaken for children from a normal world yet none of these children has ever known peace. The scars of war are everywhere, for most Angolans the war around them has simply become a state of being. Hope is no longer a bearable option, it has been given and taken too many times.
1992 is the year that hope died. For a few brief months Angola held peace in its sights. A truce was called between the communist government of Eduardo Dos Santos and the anti-Communist rebels of Jonas Savimbi. 16 years of brutal civil was came to an end. Savimbi bought his men out of the bush and back to the capital of Luanda. Elections were held but then Savimbi claimed they were rigged and the war began all over again. As the bodies piled up in Luanda, Savimbi raised the flag of the black rooster over Huambo, Angolas second largest city. His fleeing men regrouped and for more than a year they were the Kings of Huambo - Savimbis beloved town.
Then the government attacked the city, for 55 days bombs rained down. Finally UNITA was driven out of the city, but the siege had left 10,000 people dead and the city of Huambo striped, looted and destroyed. Savimbis former residence was once Huambos most famous colonial home, but now it is simply Huambos most famous ruin.
Ever since the so-called second war began in 1992 it has been fought from the central highlands of Angola. The so-called Planalto is the heartland of UNITA, Savimbi was born here and its the home of his Ovunbunda tribe. Its also the spiritual home of Savimbis second war against Luanda.
Its from here that he has steadily pushed the war outwards. Today the vast rural areas of the provinces of Huambo, Bie, Moxico and Malange are UNITA territory. Only the capital cities have been left like islands in a sea still under government control.
In this new war Savimbi is true to his Maoist training. The strategy: strangle the cities instead of wasting manpower trying to take the well guarded capitals, UNITA is simply suffocating them.
To get to the besieged cities across the interior of Angola, planes have to dodge surface to air missiles. They do this by flying at extremely high altitudes and then literally spiralling in over the relative safety of the cities.
Huambo has become a symbol of the new war in Angola.
It was here that two UN aircraft that were shot down by UNITA at the beginning of the year. These attacks marked the beginning of UNITAs new siege of the city. As well as its scorched earth policy in the rural areas.
Anneliese Burgess: For those seeking a frontline to the war this is it. The bombed out, destroyed, besieged capital cities are the end of the line for the thousands and thousands of people fleeing the war in the provinces. Now these cities are under government control, the areas surrounding the capitals are under UNITA control
and many argue that UNITA has purposefully created centres of crisis that will keep the government busy while they get on with the war in the provinces.
In 1992 the heart of Huambo was ripped out. The Portuguese called in Nova Lisboa New Lisbon. It was meant to become the capital for all Portuguese colonies in Africa. Now there is nothing left of that colonial splendour.
Huambo is a ghost of its former self. It has no running water, no shops, no hotels, no libraries, electricity for a few hours a day. Those people with enough money to leave have left for the safety of Luanda.
Huambo is now little more than a refugee centre and a garrison town defended by 15,000 government soldiers. One senses that holding on to Huambo has become a matter of pride for the armed forces of Angola.
Yet the army is only able to hold on to a relatively small security perimeter of about 60km around the city.
In the past 6 months, 80,000 refugees have flooded the city. They have left behind them their villages, their harvests usually arriving with nothing more than the clothes on their backs.
In what was once the industrial heart of Angolas second largest city, 18,000 refugees are cramped together in buildings that once produced goods. Instead today they form the backdrop for food hand outs.
This airlifted food is all thats standing between the people of Huambo and starvation. The roads leading out of Huambo are mined, bridges have been blown up and UNITA ambushes are a constant danger.
Refugee: "We ran away from the enemy UNITA
they decapitate people, and from January there has been lots of killing. They steal your food, cattle, chickens, blankets and pots. They took all our maize and potatoes
we were cleaned out, that's why we came here."
Some where on the horizon lie the UNITA guerrillas. Their presence is a cloud over life in the city. People constantly watch and wait for the next bombardment, the next attack, the next infiltration.
They are guarded by reluctant conscripts. Who know that UNITA is out there. Well hidden in the countryside around them.
When the attack comes it is sudden but never unexpected. The residents cant even muster enough enthusiasm to show real terror. They run but almost without respect for the shells that fly in to their city.
Twenty kilometres from Huambo, a battle is raging for the control of the strategic town of Koala. It lies with in the government security perimeter. In the early hours of the morning, one thousand UNITA guerrillas attempt to take the town. By the time the cameras arrive the government troops have repelled the attack.
And for an army that has been on the defensive for months, the relatively small victory is something to celebrate.
Hey, this guy we shot is still alive. Lets riddle him with bullets
Bodies are shown and prisoners paraded. But the true pathos of civil war is this bundle of scattered millies. The rations of a young man, who became a bush guerrilla.
What were your orders?
-To take Huambo.
Where do you come from?
War demands fast bravado from young men. These young rookies understand that victory simply means they are forced to remain standing for the next round.
And on the other side of Huambo city, the soldiers who have not remained standing gather at a Red Cross hospital to replace limbs they lost in battle. All four of these young men are conscripts. All four have lost their legs since the war intensified in January. The youngest Antonio is still completely shell shocked.
The other soldiers laugh at his detached behaviour and starnge speech. We were on patrol he says, they told us to stop the people who were attacking the convoys. We were hungry and then we went to find some food and some smokes. He gets a strange look in his eyes as he remembers how tired he was. We walked and walked and then I fell on a land mine.
Some estimate that Angola has ten million land mines buried beneath its soil, in the three decades of war. For all those Angolans who have and still will step on land mines the war will leave its terrible mark forever.
Two hundred kilometres east of Huambo, over the vast UNITA controlled BA province,. Lies the other strategic capital of the central highlands, Kuito. Another isolated besieged city.
It has been called Angolas Dresden because of the devastating damage it suffered in the battle of 1992. 50,000 people lost their lives in the street fighting that finally drove UNITA from the city. During the siege of 1992 the city ran out of place to bury its dead. And bodies were buried on traffic islands and pavements.
Today Kuito is a sad humiliated city. Haunted by the horrific memories of 1992. Most of those who had the means to leave the city have long gone. But their places have been taken by a deluge of refugees fleeing UNITAs war. 70,000 people have come to Kuito in the past six months alone. Here in Kuito, the full scale of the human disaster is becoming only too obvious.
Kuito is basically is a besieged city. People do not have access to any land or any area what so ever more than the radius of 15 kilometres or 30 kilometres in some directions. What ever harvest people had available to themselves has been used in March and April. No one could get food in.
In a country rich with oil and diamonds food has now become the most precious commodity. The World Food programme is the only source for the refugees spread out across Angola. Now even those supplies are running out and to make matters worse they are also running out of money to pay for the airlift of food in to the besieged cities.
The security situation is already bad. If it gets worse people will die on the streets. The situation will get worse in the next one month because people have no access to food.
Savimbi has always referred to Angolas capital as Luanda landia, the land of Luanda. And in this civil war, the city could almost be another country. It carries none of the harsh battle wounds so many of the other cities and towns do.
Luanda is the undisputed other side. The city of government. Along with a strip of other coastal towns like Lubito and Bwangala, Luanda is the one part of Angola that is still under firm government control.
Its from Luanda that the government runs its campaign to win over public opinion. A slick operation headed by a Brazilian public relations firm.
Under the heading Angola says enough, the advertisements are shown on state television. Filled with images of happy people and well-equipped soldiers, this campaign tries to convince a cynical people that this fight against Savimbi is worth fighting for. And with the campaign to win the hearts and minds of Angolans, the television campaigns is also about fingering Savimbi as the countries main perpetrator.
Three times has stretched out its hand for peace and been betrayed. This is a man without honour who hides his real intentions.
Effective propaganda is an important instrument of war. In Angola both sides are eager to show their war bounty and body counts. For ordinary observers its become virtually impossible from the spin doctoring.
These are UNITA visuals of the aftermath of the March and April battles between UNITA and government forces in central highlands.. The footage is from a video smuggled out of the country. A disturbingly different picture to the official version seen by Angolans on their television screens.
The government has promised to launch a major military offensive against the UNITA before the rainy season begins in September. In March the Angolan army tried to take the UNITA stronghold of Balunda in the central highlands. They came close but UNITAs resistance was much stringer than expected. And the army took heavy losses. In a country at war images like these are carefully controlled. This could be mistaken for a victorious army action. Where in fact, the Army has publicly admitted that UNITA currently holds the military upper hand. The Angolan armed forces are stretched for resources The state is practically bankrupt and there have been delays in raising the money for new armaments. The most immediate problem however is manpower. With many of its best soldiers at war in the Congo and a continually expanding front at home the Angolan army is desperate for more men.
The government launched an aggressive conscription campaign, in the run up to the planned new offensive against UNITA. So far it seems to have failed dismally, with many youngsters desperate to stay out of the war. There are reports that the elite have sent their sons out of the country to save them from the country. But poor people like those in this neighbourhood are not so lucky.
All over the city we heard a forceful new tactic to boost the size of the army. The government has taken to cordoning off certain neighbourhoods without warning and checking papers of all men entering and leaving the area. Those who find themselves in the wrong area at the wrong time are press-ganged in to service, even the very young or those who have served in the army before.
Reliable information on the war is hard to come by in Luanda. The media is dominated by the state broadcaster and official newspapers. And in an atmosphere of severe restriction most journalist dont even pretend to be unbiased. In Luanda there is genuine fear of being branded an informer or a UNITA sympathiser. But this little newspaper with the curious title of Page 8 is one of the few sources of alternative information. We approached the editor about what Angolans expect of the months to come?
Editor: I think at this moment UNITA strategy is to suffocate the big cities, to create a climate of unhappiness in the cities and areas controlled by the government. Thereby forcing the population from the rural areas to flee to the cities. They are blocking the roads and cutting the supply of electricity and maybe all this to force the government to sit at the negotiating table. I think the big offensive is still going to take place and the government is preparing for that now. But this will not put an end to the Angolan conflict because the offensive will occur only in some places occupied by UNITA. As a military strategy its not worth much. It may have some symbolic and historical value but no strategic value.
While the talk of political solutions and a new offensive against UNITA might occupy journalists and politicians, the people at the beach bars and Sunday markets of Luanda are not waiting with bated breath.
Anneliese Burgess: Here in the capital city the edges of war are softened by a sense that life goes on. But across Angola thousands of young men are losing their lives in a battle most of them dont want to fight. At the same time, thousands maybe hundreds of thousands of Angolans face possible starvation this year. And that is the true tragedy of Angola. It is one of Africas richest yet its people are forced in to poverty. 48% of the budget is used to fund the war and much of the rest is hijacked by the elite. For ordinary Angolans peace is as elusive now as it has been for the past thirty years.