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. Angola's peace celebrations overshadowed by virus outbreak
LUANDA (AFP) Apr 04, 2005
Angola celebrated three years of peace Monday after a devastating civil war lasting more than a quarter century, but events were overshadowed by an outbreak of the deadly Ebola-like Marburg disease, which has so far claimed 150 victims.

Some 3,000 people gathered at the western seaboard capital's national stadium for a thanksgiving service, organised by religious groups in this poor southern African country which has been devastated by 27 years of conflict.

But the outbreak of Marburg haemorrhagic fever, for which there is no specific treatment, cast a pall over the celebrations where religious leaders prayed for the nation.

"It is a sad day. But if we did not have peace we would not be able to fight against this disease," said Angolan deputy health minister Jose Van Dunem.

"Even in this misfortune, peace is a blessing," he told AFP ahead of the ceremony.

New Apostolic church leader Eduardo Mbuta asked "God, stop this epidemic."

"Stop all the epidemics and all that is bad," he said during a prayer at the ceremony which also included the release of white doves as signal of the "Luena Protocol", the formal ceasefire between the government and rebels.

The conflict between Russian and Cuban-backed government forces and bitter rivals, the rebel National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), which had the support of the United States and apartheid South Africa, raged since the country's independence from Portugal in 1975.

But peace finally came on April 4, 2002, three months after the death of UNITA's long-time leader Jonas Savimbi, who was killed in a battle with government troops in the eastern Moxico province.

UNITA announced in August 2002 that it finally scrapped its armed wing and the first of some four million refugees left by the war started to return to the country.

By the end of the war, the country's economy was left in tatters and today despite being one of the continent's top oil producers -- passing more than one million barrels per day last year -- some 60 percent of Angola's 14 million inhabitants were still living below the poverty line.

"During these last three years of peace, we have suffered and are still suffering a lack of food for the most vulnerable populations of Angola," said David Nkosi, one of the church leaders at the sermon.

"Even here in Luanda, there are places without electricity and potable water," Nkosi added.

Religious leaders on Monday emplored the government to continue with the process of disarming civilians which included some 85,000 rebel fighters at the end of the ceasefire.

"We are asking the government to proceed with total disarmament of the civil population. We are also appealing to political parties to immediately stop their hostile language against each other," said Angola's Anglican church leader Andre Soares.

But Monday's peace celebrations in the capital were not attended by any UNITA representatives or Angola's ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) President Eduardo dos Santos.

A simmering conflict also continued in the country's northern oil-rich Cabinda enclave, wedged between the Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo between government forces and separatists.

All rights reserved. 2005 Agence France-Presse. Sections of the information displayed on this page (dispatches, photographs, logos) are protected by intellectual property rights owned by Agence France-Presse. As a consequence, you may not copy, reproduce, modify, transmit, publish, display or in any way commercially exploit any of the content of this section without the prior written consent of Agence France-Presse.

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