JOHANNESBURG, 24 January (IRIN) - As
Namibian and Angolan forces at the weekend jointly shelled suspected UNITA
rebel strongholds in southern Angola, Namibian President Sam Nujoma reiterated
his government's support for Angola which has been granted the right to
launch attacks from Namibian territory.
Nujoma's assurances to Angola were made during a visit to the area last week, according to local news reports which gave no further details. But the reports said heavy shelling by Namibian and Angolan government forces had been reported from Bangani, a town in the northeast Caprivi Strip 675 km from the capital, Windhoek, near where three French tourists were recently shot and killed by suspected UNITA insurgents.
Meanwhile, the government was told on Monday that it would be in contravention of the Geneva Convention on the rights of prisoners of war if it hands over a group of captured UNITA rebels to the Angolan government. The Namibian Defence Force paraded the group of 81 suspected rebels before the media last week at the Kavango regional capital of Rundu near the Angolan border, where the Angolan army has now based some of its forces.
Namibian Defence Minister Erkki Nghimtina said the suspected rebels would be handed over to the Angolan government. In remarks carried on television, he said: "They are citizens of Angola, and Angola will deal with them."
But Phil ya Nangoloh, director of the National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) told IRIN that the captives should not be handed over because they are protected by the Geneva Convention. He said UNITA members who came into Namibia as refugees had to be recognised as such while those accused of committing crimes locally should be tried and, if found guilty, should serve their sentences in Namibia.
The independent daily, 'The Namibian', reported that bandits terrorising residents of Caprivi and Kavango last week killed four people and injured half a dozen others in multi-pronged attacks.
The incidents, which took place on Thursday and Friday, bring to more than 10 the number of people murdered in Namibia's troubled northeast in three weeks.
The injured are being treated at Rundu hospital, which this week performed amputations on four people injured by landmines planted in the wake of retreating bandits. The newspaper said the attacks have been blamed on starving UNITA soldiers.
Meanwhile, The 'Sunday Times' of South Africa reported that hundreds of Namibian civilians, including women and children, are being illegally recruited into the Angolan army to fight the rebels. The newspaper, verifying repeated NSHR claims, carried photographs and interviews with armed child soldiers, including teenage girls at a town in Angola called Calai, just across the border from Rundu.
It said the increased tensions and a recruitment drive among Namibians had created an atmosphere of fear in northern Namibia's border zone: "With the Namibian government's continued silence comes uncertainty and fear," the newspaper said. "Businesses have closed, tourism has been badly hit and jobs have been lost. Some locals have moved their families further south, while others are wondering if they should start clearing bomb shelters in their gardens - relics from the 1970s..."
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