FEATURE-Anger runs deep in Angola's Cabinda over oil

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* Attack on footballers puts Cabinda on the map

* Cabindans seek bigger share of wealth

* Crackdown on insurgents expected after attack

By Julien Pretot

CABINDA, Jan 14 (Reuters) - After losing an arm and most of his friends fighting for the independence of Cabinda, Pedro Puna quit the FLEC rebels long before they grabbed world attention with a deadly ambush on Togo's soccer team bus.

Although he denounces last week's attack, the 50-year-old has lost none of the bitterness felt by many Cabindans towards Angola's central government, accused of failing to deliver in a province that produces half the country's oil.

"This was an act of terrorism. But maybe we need to look at the reasons why there are terrorists, also," he said.

The ambush killed two of Togo's soccer delegation to the African Nations Cup and deeply embarrassed Angola, hoping that by hosting Africa's top soccer tournament it would show its transformation from civil war thanks to surging oil production.

The rebels, thought to number only a few hundred, had rarely -- if ever -- achieved such global prominence in three decades of low level insurgency. While they can now expect a heavy response, the attack has drawn attention to Cabinda.

Since giving up the fight, Puna lives in a prefab village built by the government for former fighters from the far bigger UNITA rebel group and ex soldiers as well as from FLEC (Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda).

"The atmosphere is good," he said through a translator. "But the living conditions are far from perfect," he added, banging the wall of his house with a fist to show how flimsy it was.

With him is Modesto, 69, who spent 34 years hiding out in Cabinda's dense tropical forest with FLEC before agreeing to give up arms after a 2006 ceasefire and join the army, in which he is now a colonel.

Modesto, who would not give his full name, was just as angry.

"We don't have running water, sometimes there are power cuts that last three or four days," he said. "If we don't pay, we don't have any gasoline. Although there is a lot, and I mean a lot of oil here in Cabinda."


Cabindans, cut off from most of Angola by a thin strip of the Democratic Republic of Congo and the mighty Congo river, have deep and complex grievances against central government.

But the biggest is oil.

"Sometimes, I can understand FLEC even if I do not support terrorism," said a 45-year-old man, who lives in Cabinda and spoke on condition of anonymity because of fears of retaliation.

If shared equally among 18 million Angolans -- which is very far from the case -- 2009 oil revenues of $15.7 billion would amount to about $870 per person.

If Cabinda's slice of Angola's 1.85 million barrel per day output were shared among its 300,000 people the sum would be well over $26,000.

The money from Cabinda's oil not only helped the Luanda government defeat UNITA rebels in 2002, but has since financed a construction boom. Oil production has soared and Angola rivals Nigeria as Africa's top oil producer.


Cabindans argue that not only do they not get the revenue they deserve for a territory that is roughly the size of Puerto Rico, but that they are victims of neglect and repression.

Last June, U.S.-based Human Rights Watch accused Angola of unlawful detention and torture in Cabinda.

"Angola's security concerns do not justify torturing people or denying them their most basic rights," said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. Angola rejects accusations of rights abuses.

The attack on the Togolese team can be expected to prompt even harsher measures to finally root out FLEC, which said it had targeted security forces rather than footballers. Angola has pledged to crush the insurgents and pursue them abroad.

FLEC's struggle dates back to before independence from Portugal. Despite the element of fighting for resource control, it is a very different conflict from that of militants in Nigeria's oil-producing Niger delta.

The fact Cabinda's oil is produced offshore also means FLEC has little chance of disrupting output, unlike the Nigerian groups.

In 2006, FLEC rebels under leader Antonio Bento Bembe signed a peace deal to integrate former rebels into the army and to give Cabinda more oil money, but the agreement was rejected by FLEC's Paris-based president, N'Zita Tiago.

Bembe, now appointed as Angola's minister in charge of Cabinda, acknowledged that many Cabindans are still frustrated at being unable to fulfil their dreams, but argues that peaceful change is possible.

"A lot of things have been changing without a need to pick up a knife or a gun," he told Reuters.

(Additional reporting by Henrique Almeida in Luanda; Editing by Matthew Tostevin)

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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