Bembe to UNPO: "The Peace Process in Cabinda Must and Will Continue"
The recent history of Cabinda is one analogous to many other regions in post-colonial Africa. It was recognised as a political entity in 1885, constituting one of the then Portuguese colonial outposts. However, since the Lisbon granting of Angolan independence in 1975, the enclave of Cabinda has been administered as a province of Angola, with government officials being appointed directly from Luanda. Cabinda became a UNPO Member in 1997.
As an effectively disenfranchised province, Cabinda has engaged itself in a struggle for self-determination for its people, a people who continue to live in abject poverty despite the tremendous oil riches of the enclave. Under Angolan rule, and with heavy military presence and operations by Angolan Armed Forces, the situation for civil society in Cabinda remains alarming. Reports of grave human rights abuses document the unabated abuses against the civilian population, and until recently there seemed to be little hope for improvement and change in the war-ravaged and poverty-struck enclave.
One of the conditions to progress any preliminary peace talks was the Angolan insistence to deal with only entity representing Cabinda. A key positive development in this relation took place a year ago when the different stakeholders to the situation in Cabinda were brought together under a new initiative. The meeting in Helvoirt, the Netherlands, in 2004 was instrumental in joining the various factions within Cabinda and in forming one unified legitimate body, and resulted in the establishment of “Cabinda Forum for Dialogue” (CFD). As an entity of key political, religious and civil society actors, the Forum was set up to function as a key interlocutor towards authorities in Angola. Bembe was, since the inception of CFD, and continues to be, the President of this significant peace initiative.
The outcome of the Helvoirt meeting was identified by some to be a problematic move for the Angolan government. According to one observer; “It left Angola with two choices; to accept negotiations or to cut off the initiated peace process.” Invited to the Netherlands as part of the wider steps in the peace talks between Angola and Cabinda, Bembe came to the Netherlands in June 2005. Shortly after, upon a US extradition request to the Dutch authorities, Bembe was arrested at the Peace Palace, The Hague, on the day of the Opening Session of the VII UNPO General Assembly.
Reactions in Cabinda and internationally
Since the arrest of Bembe in June 2005, the reaction in civil society in Cabinda has been tremendous. Several thousand Cabindans have signed an appeal for the release of Bembe in support of the FCD and the peace efforts in which Bembe was the leading figure. “Considering the recent detention of his Excellency Mr. Antonio Bento Bembe, in a mission of Peace, right when he was seeking political and diplomatic support for negotiations targeted to peaceful solution of the Cabinda problem […] and seeing that the solution of this problem requires, necessarily, a solution through dialogue”, Civil Society of Cabinda appeals to the Dutch authorities to prevent further acts that compromise efforts in favour of dialogue and peace in Cabinda.
In addition to the support and pledged allegiance to Bembe’s efforts by civil society, several other individuals within and outside Cabinda have expressed their concern at the current detention in the Netherlands. MEP Jose Ribeiro E. Castro comments on the arrest; “it interrupts a positive effort of dialogue and peace that was getting started, thus causing a growing risk of frustrating it again, maintaining an armed conflict that endures for too long.” A member of the Portuguese Parliament, Joao Soares, further adds: “The freedom of Antonio Bento Bembe is an essential condition for the dialogue to be resumed and carried out, aiming at a fair solution.” The case has received much attention in Portugal, and in Portuguese media, and demonstrations have taken place outside the Dutch Embassy in Lisbon, protesting the arrest and detention of Bembe.
A victim of his conviction
“Antonio Bento Bembe is a man of peace with a unique ambition. He can only be charged with the mistake of devoting himself fully to the cause of the liberation of Cabinda,” Miguel Bembe, the son of the arrested Bembe, asserts. “My father is committed to the finding a peaceful solution and works on the basis of the wide support and legitimacy he derives from civil society in Cabinda. He is a victim of his ideological and political conviction,” Miguel concludes in the context of recent events.
Bembe himself continues to hold an optimistic position with
a view to further progress of peace initiatives. “We can only be successful
in unity” Bembe affirms, underscoring the importance of recent developments
within Cabinda, such as the establishment of FCD, in laying the foundation for
the restoration of peace. Pleased by the decision of the Court in the hearing
on 4 October, Bembe remains in good faith that the next round will represent
the positive and final conclusion to this matter. “As long as I am free,
I will continue my responsibility. We shall proceed unaffected by this interruption”,
Bembe declares to UNPO.