Angola: Government battles rebels in southern border zone

JOHANNESBURG, 15 December (IRIN) - Angolan government forces this week resumed their offensive against UNITA rebels in the south of the country near the Namibian border in clashes which brought a new wave of refugees into Namibia, officials told IRIN on Wednesday.
According to human rights activists, the latest fighting has also heightened tensions in the remote Kavango and Caprivi Strip border areas. A spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said the agency was keeping a tight watch on the situation as a mission in the region began assessing the needs of those fleeing.

A report in 'The Namibian' quoted residents in the Kavango regional capital, Rundu, as saying that Angolan army forces were recruiting Namibians, after giving them promises of good monthly wages. The newspaper also said an Angolan government lorry was seen driving around a Rundu squatter camp on Sunday appealing to people to sign up. An army spokesman told IRIN the report was untrue, saying Angola did not need Namibian manpower. He also denied news reports that Namibian special police had captured a senior UNITA commander.

Sources told IRIN that in recent days, Angolan artillery bombardments on UNITA positions had rocked the Angolan border town of Calai, while on Sunday rebel mortar shell landed in a Namibian village, wounding eight people.

Earlier in the week, Namibian army chief of staff, Major-General Martin Shalli, told reporters that if necessary, Namibia would provide the Angolan government with facilities in the renewed drive against UNITA forces. Prior to Namibia's independence from South Africa in 1990, the country's ruling Southwest Africa Peoples Organisation which was allied with the Angolan government, clashed frequently with UNITA rebels.

The latest clashes come in the wake of a government offensive in October which forced UNITA to retreat towards the Namibian and Zambian borders after being routed from their strongholds in Angola's central highlands. Analysts said it appeared government forces were now seeking to oust the rebels from their last major stronghold at Jamba in southeast Angola.

Until the weekend, there had been a lull in the offensive. Namibia had asked Angola to go slow during the presidential and parliamentary elections at the beginning of the month so as not to inflame secessionist tensions in the Caprivi Strip which lies along the eastern stretch of the border between the two countries.

The National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) in Namibia said in a statement on Wednesday it had been "receiving worrisome reports about the deteriorating human rights, humanitarian and security situation in Kavango and Caprivi". It said it was checking reports of a crackdown by Namibian security forces and the army, against suspected separatists and UNITA sympathisers.

It appealed to all warring parties to prevent atrocities perpetrated by their forces along the border.


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