Angola: New concerns as fighting rages along southern border

News and Press Release
Originally published
JOHANNESBURG, 22 December (IRIN) - As fighting raged all week along Angola's border with Namibia, European diplomats told IRIN on Wednesday they were concerned at the worsening humanitarian situation and reports of serious human rights violations.
Ambassadors of the European Union (EU) and the United States based in Namibia were said to be especially concerned at the impact of fighting between Angolan government forces and UNITA rebels on people living in the border zone. Diplomats contacted by IRIN also cited Namibia's deepening involvement in the conflict through its decision to allow Angolan forces to use its northern bases as a springboard for attacks.

Their remarks coincided with an official announcement that UNITA soldiers had attacked a camp of the Namibian Special Field Force in the early hours of Tuesday killing a soldier and wounding three others before crossing back into Angola. The mortar and hand-grenade attack, according to official radio accounts, occurred at a base called Mbambi some 200 km east of the Namibian border town and Kavango regional capital, Rundu. 'The Namibian' newspaper cited two other cases in which a boy was wounded in a raid on a shop, and another in which cattle were driven over the border into Angola.

The Namibian Defence Force and the police vowed that should UNITA launch further attacks, they would immediately retaliate. The government declined all further comment, other than insist the situation on the Namibian side of the border was "under control".

Meanwhile, news reports said Angolan government forces had pounded UNITA position with heavy artillery from Kangongo in Namibia later on Tuesday. 'The Namibian' also carried photographs of charred homes and people murdered across the Angolan border in what it called "execution-style" killings. Phil ya Nangoloh, director of the National Society for Human Rights (NSHR), said in a statement that its own observers had seen detained people wearing blindfolds at the Rundu military base, where he said hundreds of people held in security sweeps within Namibia had reportedly been detained. Angolans among them were being handed over to Angolan army units for repatriation.

The diplomats told IRIN it was difficult to verify reports of atrocities. "The government insists this is all happening on the Angolan side," a diplomat said. But he added: "The military, humanitarian and human rights situation is nevertheless very worrying to us from what we have seen and heard." EU heads of mission were planning to discuss the situation at a meeting in Windhoek next week. They were also weighing a UNHCR appeal to assist more than 7,000 Angolan refugees being housed at a camp in Osire, some 700 km south of the border.

The director of the Legal Assistance Centre, Andrew Corbett, told 'The Namibian' the reports and photographs of executed civilians were "a matter of great concern for all people concerned with human rights." He said the apparent lawlessness of the Angolan army would "reflect badly on the Namibian Defence Force".

"The Government should not put Namibia at the disposal of the FAA (Angolan Armed Forces) if they know they are committing atrocities just a few kilometres over the border," Corbett told the newspaper.

The latest fighting started a month ago. After a lull during the Namibian elections, the government of President Sam Nujoma offered Angola the use of bases inside Namibia as it continues a major offensive against UNITA which started in October. Thousands of refugees have also fled to neighbouring Zambia through Angola's eastern borders, according to UNHCR accounts.

Alcides Sakala, UNITA's secretary for foreign affairs, told Reuters "by satellite telephone from an undisclosed location deep inside Angola" that the rebels would now retaliate against Namibia.

"The Namibian government is now part of the conflict," he was quoted as saying, "and UNITA has the right to retaliate." Sakala also said Jonas Savimbi, the UNITA leader who had not been heard of for months since the offensive started, was well "in good shape" and with his supporters in Angola.


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