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Portugal and former colony Angola seek to repair ties

© AFP/File | Lourenco has pledged to fight corruption and rebuild the economy

LISBON (AFP) - 

After years of tensions, Portugal and its one-time African colony Angola are seeking to put relations back on track, with high-level visits planned to push economic ties and repair their troubled past.

Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa arrived in Luanda on Monday, while Angola's President Joao Lourenco is due to visit Lisbon on November 23 and 24.

The diplomacy marks an effort to move beyond the legacy of colonial rule over Angola that ended in 1975 when Portugal withdrew without handing over power and Angola sank into civil war until 2002.

Angola also entered a new era last year when Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who ruled the country with an iron fist from 1979 to 2017, stepped down and was replaced by Lourenco.

"Angola and Portugal are emerging from a difficult phase. What's important is that both sides are able to identify the obstacles and troublesome elements in order to overcome them," Angola's Foreign Minister Manuel Augusto said last week.

A key source of friction was removed in May when a Portuguese court decided that Angola's former vice president Manuel Vicente can be tried in Luanda, rather than in Portugal, on corruption charges.

Lourenco had demanded that the trial take place in his country, "so that relations between Angola and Portugal can return to the level of the recent past."

On the eve of his visit, Costa said the legal breakthrough presented a major opportunity.

"Ties were good economically but there was frustration related to a judicial issue. Now that has passed, nothing impedes our relations," he told a Portugese paper on Sunday.

Angola is a key trading partner with its former colonial master, and the third largest recipient of its investments.

- 'Very important step' -

Portugal, battered by the global financial crisis, avoided bankruptcy with a bailout from the European Union, while Angola has become the tenth largest foreign investor in Portugal.

The visit by Costa, which has been postponed several times, is a "very important step" toward normalising relations, said analyst Alex Vines of Britain's Chatham House think-tank.

Vines said rocky relations with Luanda had provoked "a great deal of anxiety" at Portugal's foreign ministry as Angola seeks to broaden its diplomatic horizons and establish other global ties.

During a recent European tour, President Lourenco had voiced interest in Angola joining the British Commonwealth and the International Organisation of Francophonie, the association of French-speaking nations.

"The animosity between the two countries seems to have dissipated, but the damage remains which, even though it can be fixed, will be felt for some time," Victor Silva, director of the Jornal de Angola, said in an editorial.

- Ex-president's daughter dismissed -

Lourenco has pledged to fight corruption and rebuild the economy of the second-largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa, which has still not recovered from the plunge in oil prices in 2014.

He has ousted relatives of his predecessor, dos Santos, from leadership positions at institutions and public companies in a move to boost transparency.

But his removal of dos Santos' daughter Isabel from the top job at national oil giant Sonangol raised fears that Sonangol could withdraw its stakes in Portugal's energy company Galp or the BCP bank.

Angolan investigative journalist Rafael Marques de Morais said "the Portuguese and Angolan governments are still complicit in the looting of Angola".

"With Joao Lourenco as president, it is to be hoped that these relations will enable them to collaborate in the repatriation of the funds stolen in Angola and placed in Portugal, by Angolans as well as by Portuguese," he told AFP.

© 2018 AFP