JOHANNESBURG, 6 July (IRIN) - Civil society groups in Angola's oil-rich Cabinda enclave have confirmed that a "major offensive" against separatist rebels is underway in the interior of the province.
Agostinho Chikaia, leader of the Mpalapanda Civic Association in Cabinda, told IRIN on Wednesday that although the clashes between government troops and the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC) have not yet "seriously impacted" on the civilian population, insecurity in the affected areas had heightened.
"So far, there haven't been any reports of [civilian] deaths - but there is also a lot of secrecy regarding what is actually going on in the interior, so it is difficult to say whether there have been fatalities. From time to time villagers come into (Cabinda) town and complain to us that they cannot go about their daily businesses because they fear for their lives," Chikaia said.
Since June the province has seen a buildup of government troops: "One only has to travel a few kilometres before there is an army checkpoint," he observed.
Father Raul Tati, a leading cleric and civil rights activist in the province, told a Luanda weekly newspaper this week that the military offensive was aimed at rooting out the remnants of the guerrilla group.
FLEC has waged a low-intensity war against the central government since Angola achieved independence in 1975. They hold the view that the enclave has its own distinct identity, history and culture, and have long pushed the Angolan government, which opposes independence for Cabinda, to hold a referendum on the issue.
Attempts to get both sides to the negotiating table have so far failed.
"Instead for talking about a solution, the government has chosen to get rid of its adversaries," Chikaia remarked.
Attempts to get comment from General Marques Correia Banza, the regional commander of government troops in Cabinda, were unsuccessful.
On a recent visit to the province, the UN Special Representative for Human Rights Defenders, Hina Jilani, raised concern over the high number of government troops in the enclave, commenting that human rights violations continued to occur because of the close proximity of the military to civilian populations.
An ad-hoc commission for human rights in Cabinda published a report in November last year detailing accounts of abuse including illegal detentions, violence, torture, rape and summary killings against the civilian population.
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