Pentagon Official Meets UNITA Member

February 14, 2001

The US department of defence told IRIN on Wednesday that its senior African official had been in touch with a member of the UNITA rebel group in Washington, despite UN sanctions banning contact with representatives of the Angolan movement.

Responding to press reports that Bernd McConnell, a deputy assistant defence secretary for African affairs met last month with Jardo Muekalia, the Pentagon said the talks over breakfast were "unofficial and informal" and therefore did not violate UN sanctions. "I don't believe that this was the first time that he had breakfast with Mr Muekalia," a Pentagon spokesman Colonel Paul Phillips told IRIN. "My understanding was that it was a discussion between folks who have known each other for a long time".

Phillips said last month's meeting took place between 22-26 January, the week after President George W Bush was inaugurated, and McConnell was accompanied by "some folks from our African affairs directorate". Despite press reports that the State Department was unaware of any contacts with UNITA since 1999, in compliance with the international embargo, Phillips insisted "our actions didn't violate sanctions."

DPA reported that Muekalia was quoted by the Voice of America (VOA) as saying that he had met "two or three times" with the Pentagon officials over the past two years. He said the January meeting was requested by the Pentagon officials, who wanted to "pick my brains" about the situation in Angola. Muekalia said he was a member of UNITA, but was no longer the groups official representative. On 10 January, before Bush's inauguration, VOA alleged that Muekalia also met briefly with Karl Rove, a top Bush adviser and now a senior counsellor in the Bush White House.

Meanwhile, UNITA spokesman in Portugal Joffre Justino told IRIN in an e-mail message that "Muekalia has the right to meet anyone who wants to talk with him." Justino said the problem lay with the UN's "illegal, immoral and totalitarian" sanctions and "with all of these illegalities why should [the] US accept to maintain this no-talks situation?"

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