25 killed as UNITA rebels bombard town

 

Twenty-five people were killed and 100 wounded as Angola's UNITA rebels yesterday shelled the government-controlled town of Malanje for the second day, Angolan national radio reported.

"At this moment we have counted approximately 25 dead and 100 wounded," Mr Joaquim Marta, deputy governor of Malanje province, said.

Fighting also broke out around the town of Bie and Huambo in central Angola, military and independent sources said.

A government official ruled out a ceasefire, though the Luanda authorities have given agreement in principle for a UN mission to search for possible survivors from two cargo planes downed near Huambo, allegedly by UNITA.

Rebels from the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) yesterday shelled Malanje for several hours but it was less severe than the previous day, sources said.

In the city, which is located 380km east of Luanda, bodies lay in the streets and a new wave of injured people were treated at the local hospital.

Malanje's 400,000 residents, who include some 200,000 who fled fighting in nearby villages, already came under rebel shelling that killed some 10 people and injured as many, according to state press reports on Monday.

UNITA targeted the city's main access points, including neighbourhoods where many administrative buildings are located.

This led military experts here to believe the rebels may surround the city, as they did to Kuito in central Angola, from December 9th to January 1st.

In central Angola, fighting was reported in sectors south and east of Huambo, 600km from the capital.

The most intense combat took place near Vila Nova, known locally as Tchikala-Tchilohanga, which the FAA retook from UNITA less than a week ago.

The fighting, some 45km from Huambo, blocks UN search and rescue teams from locating UN personnel and crew members from the two chartered C130 cargo planes that went down on December 26th and January 2nd.

An Angolan deputy Interior Minister, Gen Higino Carneiro, told the press the armed forces were not prepared to cease fighting in Vila Nova.

"It's a zone of operations. I don't see how we can stop fighting," he said.

In Bie, 700km south-east of Luanda, the army said it had launched a full offensive in sectors near Kuito, the provincial capital.

It claimed 15 rebels were killed on Monday in Kakama, north of Kuito, and said it had captured weapons and radio equipment.

The army also said it was in control of Cunhinga, Chitembo and Chinguar, which lie around Kuito.

Unita's disarmament and its transformation into a traditional political party were two conditions of a 1994 peace treaty signed by the two sides in the Zambian capital of Lusaka and aimed at putting an end to two decades of civil war.

Angola, a former Portuguese colony, is rich in diamonds and oil but its population remains among Africa's poorest.

It has been in the midst of a new civil war since mid-November, when the AAF began an offensive against UNITA rebels, who it says paralysed a peace process begun on November 20th, 1994, with the Treaty of Lusaka.