Angola + 1 more

Namibia: Namibian troops pursue UNITA rebels

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JOHANNESBURG, 6 January (IRIN) - The Namibian authorities said on Thursday they had launched a "hot pursuit" operation against suspected Angolan rebels following the murder of three French tourists and an attack on aid workers in the remote northeast Caprivi Strip earlier this week.
A Western diplomat told IRIN that government officials had stopped short of saying they had followed the suspects across the country's northern border into Angola itself, "but they did not deny it either". Diplomats said the Namibian pursuit did not in their view constitute an escalation of fighting in the border region which intensified three weeks ago when Namibia granted Angolan government forces the right to launch attacks against UNITA strongholds from Namibian territory.

Meanwhile, the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) said the army clashed with UNITA near Kongola in a part of Caprivi not far from where the foreigners were ambushed in two separate incidents on Monday which the government blamed on UNITA. NBC said seven UNITA soldiers had been killed. It did not say whether the clash was related to the pursuit operation.

Analysts said, however, the Caprivi clash was the first direct confrontation between the two sides on Namibian territory. A police source told Reuters news agency that four young men suspected of being UNITA rebels had been arrested near Mashare further to the east in the Caprivi. Police took the suspected rebels to the town of Rundu for questioning.

Sources told IRIN on Thursday that although the situation was "not very encouraging" and that further such hit-and-run attacks could not be ruled out, UNITA forces in southern Angola were being routed. Their communications and supply lines had been disrupted, their fighters were demoralised and many were isolated from their traditional command structures.

It was likely some desperate fighters had sought refuge from the latest offensive in the dense bush of the Caprivi which they described as "thick and lush" after recent rains. The sources hoped this situation would enable the offensive to end quickly and enable Angolan forces to leave Namibia.

UNITA in a statement has denied accusations that it was responsible for the ambushes this week, which it in turn blamed on "renegade" Angolan armed forces (FAA) soldiers: "It goes without saying that UNITA have been in this area for 21 years and everyone knows no such incident occurred in the area until now."

[ENDS]

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Item: irin-english-2232

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