Angola: Cabinda separatists confirm ''exploratory'' talks with government

JOHANNESBURG, 11 February (IRIN) - Separatists in Angola's northern Cabinda province on Tuesday confirmed reports there have been "exploratory" talks with the government over the future of the oil-rich enclave.
A spokesman for one of the rebel groups, FLEC-FAC, told IRIN that the 9 January meeting in Paris signalled a thaw in relations between the organisation and the government in Luanda.

"The government officials came to us to say that President [Eduardo] dos Santos was considering the issue of Cabinda and recognised the specific concerns of Cabindans. Also they said that the president supported a peaceful settlement in Cabinda, but was not willing to consider changing the constitution to accommodate our request for independence," Xavier Builo, a representative of FLEC-FAC in the Netherlands said.

Awarded to Angola by the Portuguese prior to independence in 1975, Cabinda is Luanda's most strategic region. An impoverished but oil-rich land sandwiched between Congo-Brazzaville and the Democratic Republic of Congo, it accounts for 60 percent of Angola's oil production of over 740,000 barrels per day, which in turn represents some 90 percent of the country's export earnings.

"The government is only willing to deal with Cabinda as long as it is a part of Angolan territory. They [government] offered to include some of FLEC-FAC's soldiers into the army and also promised an increase in the budget for Cabinda," Builo added.

He, however, accused the government of double dealing.

"After telling us that we were the main representatives of the Cabindan people they went off to Gabon to say exactly the same thing to FLEC-Renovada [a splinter group]. Also, they told us that they do not want to draw too much international attention to Cabinda. This is impossible because we are fighting for our identity," Builo said.

Attempts to negotiate a ceasefire and hold talks on the future of the enclave have so far failed.

In a related development, rights activists told IRIN that human rights abuses in Cabinda were ongoing.

"The situation in Cabinda has worsened as far as human rights abuses are concerned. In many areas, especially in Buco-Zau municipality, the government has engaged in heavy bombardments, with sophisticated weaponry, of civilian villages. More executions, torture and rapes have been carried out by government soldiers since the first Human Rights Report on Cabinda was released on 10 December 2002," Open Society representative Rafael Marques alleged.

Although the December report by the rights group covered alleged abuses both by the Angolan security forces and by FLEC-FAC, the overwhelming number of accusations were made against government forces.


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