No tango over Cuango.

Author:Gordon, Chris
Position:Battle over the ownership of diamond deposits in Angola's Cuango Valley

The long-held prospect of peace in Angola could suffer further delays due to a trilateral struggle to corner control of the country's richest gemstone deposits, currently held by UNITA. With De Beers desperate to dominate the African diamond industry, Angola's Opposition group may get the trump card. CHRIS GORDON investigates.

At the end of January this year, two years after the Lusaka Peace Accords were signed, Angola's opposition party, UNITA (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola), is expected to join the Government in a move which aims to put the country onto a more harmonious footing. The vast diamond deposits of the Cuango Valley, however, remain a stumbling block on the path to peaceful relations between the MPLA (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola) ruling regime and UNITA, which has occupied the mines since 1992 and still refuses to back out. That De Beers had an agreement with the Government to buy the area's diamonds, serves to complicate the matter.

During the five years since UNITA rejected Angola's UN-sponsored election results in 1992, and launched a vicious civil war, Jonas Savimbi's opposition group bought arms and other supplies from a vast income generated by diamond smuggling. Currently, it is realising at least $500m a year from the Cuango and for this, is refusing to cease occupation of the area until the Government has agreed to guarantee UNITA a diamond concession. Negotiations have continued since mid-1996 but little success has resulted. As Mr Savimbi makes clear: "UNITA has got its revenues from the diamond mines and we should not just give that up. No one is prepared to be without any money."

UNITA's refusal to budge is preventing the Sociedade Mineiro de Desinvolvimento (SDM), which is expecting eventually to mine the Cuango, from gaining access to the area. Originally, SDM was a joint venture between Angola's state diamond company, Endiama, and Odebrecht, the Brazilian-based construction multinational. When, or if, SDM manages to begin operations, it will be a major producer of high quality alluvial diamonds. However, SDM is not the only one sweating on the sidelines. De Beers, the South African diamond giant, is battling to regain control of Africa's last untapped diamond resources and therefore, is furthering the friction in this three-cornered fight to control the Cuango diamonds.

In November 1996, the Angolan Government approved a new partner, the Australian company, Ashton Mining...

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