JOHANNESBURG, 23 December (IRIN)
- Angolan and Namibian defence forces blasted suspected UNITA rebel strongholds
in southern Angola from positions on the Namibian side of the border sending
villagers in some areas fleeing for safety in the bush, according to news
reports and diplomats on Thursday.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it was concerned at the reports of escalated fighting, a growing humanitarian crisis and alleged human rights abuses reported by the independent daily, 'The Namibian', human rights activists, and other observers in Namibia. Ambassadors of the European Union (EU) earlier told IRIN they too were growing concerned at the escalation of tension near and around the Kavango regional capital, Rundu, a major Namibian army base on the border.
Humanitarian officials told IRIN they were also concerned that the number of refugees entering Namibia, now at just over 7,000, had not increased noticeably in the past week despite the evident escalation in fighting. They wondered whether people were simply staying in the bush, or whether, as has been alleged, some of those crossing over had been detained and in some cases handed over directly to Angolan army units granted the right to pursue their drive against UNITA from Namibian soil.
"We are extremely concerned at these allegations, and I am planning to raise them at the highest level with the relevant authorities," UNHCR's Regional Director for Southern Africa, Nicolas Bwakira, told IRIN on Thursday.
In its latest report on the fighting, 'The Namibian' said on Thursday: "Shelling of UNITA positions by both the Angolan army and Namibian security forces from inside Namibia has increased over the past two days in the wake of the killing of a Namibian Special Field Force officer at Mbambi in the Kavango region. Sources in the Shanvura area, about 130 kilometres east of Rundu, said the shelling of suspected rebel positions from Namibia had also triggered an exodus of hundreds of people who had fled from Makena (an Angolan border town)."
The Angolan and Namibian governments have so far declined all comment on the situation. Citing the uncertain security situation, the American and European governments, meanwhile, advised their citizens to avoid travel to northern Namibia's Kavango and Caprivi regions. The US embassy said in a statement: "There are credible reports of Angolan forces shelling UNITA targets from within Namibia and UNITA retaliatory fire into Namibia, as well as of an anti-personnel mine discovered on the Nkurenkuru road west of Rundu." It also reported an increase in the number of roadblocks in the Kavango area set up by Namibian security forces on the lookout for UNITA rebels.
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