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Although Angola's boundaries with neighboring states were not disputed, the country's geopolitical position heavily affected national security. Luanda enjoyed fraternal relations with Congo and Zambia, but sporadic antagonism characterized the regime's relations with Zaire. Since Pretoria's intervention in the civil war of 1975-76, an undeclared state of war had existed with South Africa, which occupied Namibia, the territory to the south of Angola (see fig. 1).

Relations with Zaire, with which Angola shares its longest border, had been punctuated by hostility since the 1960s, when Zaire's President Mobutu Sese Seko sponsored and provided sanctuary to an MPLA rival, the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (Frente Nacional de Libertação de Angola -- FNLA), and to the separatist Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (Frente para a Libertação do Enclave de Cabinda--FLEC). Although there had been no conflicts over the positioning of the border itself, the direct intervention of regular Zairian forces in Angola on behalf of the FNLA in September 1975 exacerbated the three-way civil war and attendant intrusions by South African, Soviet, and Cuban forces.

Despite a February 1976 accord in which the Angolan and Zairian governments renounced further hostilities, Zaire not only continued to provide sanctuary and assistance to the FNLA, which made periodic raids into Angola, but also facilitated FLEC attacks on Angola's oil-rich Cabinda Province. Aircraft based in Zaire also violated Angolan airspace, occasionally bombing villages on the northern border. In retaliation, in 1977 and 1979 Luanda allowed Katangan dissidents based in Angola to invade Zaire's Shaba Province (formerly Katanga Province), from which they were repelled only after the intervention of Egyptian, Moroccan, French, and Belgian forces (see Angola as a Refuge , this ch.).

Having apparently evened their scores, Angola and Zaire normalized relations in 1978, and the two erstwhile antagonists entered into a nonaggression pact with Zambia in 1979. In February 1985, Luanda and Kinshasa signed a security and defense pact including mutual pledges not to allow the use of their territory for attacks on each other; the two governments also set up a joint defense and security commission to develop border security arrangements. In July 1986, Angola and Zaire set up joint working groups and regional commissions to implement their pledges, and in August 1988 they signed a border security pact.

Despite normalization and border security agreements, AngolanZairian relations remained strained and fraught with inconsistencies in the late 1980s. The two countries could not effectively control their 2,285-kilometer border, which UNITA forces continued to cross freely. Furthermore, Kinshasa continued indirect support of UNITA, particularly after 1986, by permitting United States use of the Kamina airbase in Shaba Province to deliver military aid to the insurgents and to train them in the use of new weapons. Despite numerous diplomatic and media reports of Zaire's involvement in logistical support of UNITA, Kinshasa persisted in denying the charges.

Zaire's erratic behavior did not constitute a direct threat to Angola. The activities of South Africa, however, were another matter. Whereas Zaire had limited itself to using its strategic location to support insurgencies against the Angolan government, Pretoria had the means to sponsor guerrilla resistance and to wage protracted war. In order to defend the 1,376-kilometer Angolan border with occupied Namibia against infiltration by South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) guerrillas based in Angola, South African forces cleared a one-kilometer-wide strip along nearly half the border's length. The Ovambo people, SWAPO's main base of ethnic support, straddled the border, facilitating SWAPO's movements and recruitment efforts (see Ethnic Groups and Languages , ch. 2).

Starting in the late 1970s, South Africa had engaged in an escalating series of air and ground raids and prolonged operations in southern Angola against SWAPO and in defense of UNITA. The South African Defense Force (SADF) occupied parts of southern Angola between August 1981 and April 1985. During and after that period, it undertook frequent air and ground attacks, hot pursuit operations, preemptive raids against SWAPO bases, and major interventions against Angolan armed forces on behalf of UNITA. In fact, large-scale South African air and ground attacks on Angolan government forces in 1985, 1987, and 1988 reversed the momentum of Luanda's offensives and saved UNITA from almost certain defeat. South Africa finally withdrew its troops from Angola in September 1988 under the terms of the United States-brokered peace plan. South Africa had also provided UNITA with massive arms and logistical support, which was to be terminated under the tripartite regional peace accord (see Regional Politics , ch. 4).

To bolster its regional position, Luanda sought to regularize and strengthen its security ties with neighboring states. In addition to its nonaggression and border pacts with Zaire, Angola employed regular consultation, coordination, and cooperation with Botswana, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe in an effort to enhance regional security. These ties were reinforced through bilateral defense accords with Tanzania and Mozambique signed in May 1988 and July 1988, respectively. A defense pact with Zambia was also reported to have been signed in March 1988, but this report was denied by the Zambian government.

Data as of February 1989

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Angola Table of Contents