May 26, 2005

Renewed conflicts in Cabinda province

Civil society groups in Angola's oil-rich Cabinda province have again called on the government to enter serious negotiations with separatists, following reports of fresh clashes. "We have tried to let the government know how important it is to begin serious dialogue with the separatists, but we have not received any response from them. Now we are receiving news that fighting has started again in the interior of the province. This shows us that the government is not really considering our calls for peace," Agostinho Chikaia, leader of the Mpalapanda Civic Association in Cabinda, said. According to him, both sides had renewed a "campaign of disinformation", which had lead to growing insecurity among the local population.
Earlier this month the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC) claimed they had shot down a military helicopter, killing its crew, but the provincial government countered that the helicopter had crashed into a mountain as a result of bad weather. In statement posted on its website, the rebel group alleged that 20 soldiers from the Angolan army had been killed after fighting had started in the regions of Buco Zau and Necuto, north of Cabinda town. Provincial authorities have since denied the deaths. Father Raul Tati, a leading cleric and civil rights activist in the province, said that sporadic clashes between government troops and the rebel FLEC-fighters were continuing. "The main town is calm, but there's definitely fighting in the interior of the province; from time to time the villagers who come to the church tell us of the troubles," Tati explained.
The provincial government could not be reached for comment. Civic and religious leaders met with the FLEC's leadership in Holland in April in an attempt to form a common strategy for negotiating with the authorities. The separatists have been battling the central government since Angola achieved independence in 1975. They claim the enclave has its own distinct identity, history and culture, and have long pushed the Angolan government, which opposes independence for Cabinda, to hold a vote on the issue. The coastal enclave is separated from mainland Angola by a tongue of land belonging to the Democratic Republic of Congo. (IRIN)

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