February 13, 2002

More than 5,000 refugees arrive in Luena

Fleeing fighting in the Angolan countryside, more than 5,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) arrived in the eastern city of Luena in January 2002, the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in its latest situation report. The vast majority of the IDPs were woman, children and the elderly.

"The number of internally displaced populations arriving in Luena has continued to increase in recent months as a result of [military] operations in Moxico and other provinces," OCHA said. "The total number of confirmed IDPs in the provincial capital has reached more than 89,000." OCHA added that according to the Moxico provincial government, an estimated 60,000 new IDPs may arrive in Luena between February and June.

Moxico has been the scene of a long-running government military offensive against UNITA rebels. Angola's UNITA rebel leadership is believed to have taken refuge in Moxico - an early stronghold of the movement - a vast, under populated and remote region bordering Zambia. A long-running government offensive has sort to trap UNITA forces and their guerrilla chief, Jonas Savimbi, active in the rugged territory.

Analysts suggest that as part of that operation, the government is attempting to remove the civilian population that could provide supplies and support to UNITA. Provincial authorities estimate that an additional 50,000 IDPs could arrive in Luena in the next five months.

According to OCHA the new arrivals were in a "critical condition", with large numbers of children being both "severely" and "moderately" malnourished. The UN office said that therapeutic and supplementary centres in the city had exceeded maximum capacity, with the nutritional status of the new IDPs reaching "emergency levels". "Approximately 80 percent of the population at Mauchimbo does not have access to adequate shelter or essential non-food items, including clothing, kitchen kits and blankets," said OCHA.

OCHA added that "persistent" insecurity and "mine infestation" in areas surrounding Luena continued to limit opportunities for the construction of new IDP camps, resettlement sites and access to agricultural land.

Meanwhile, three suspected UNITA rebels were shot and killed near Namibia's northern border, Namibian defence officials said. A few days before, Namibian President Sam Nujoma said that UNITA and its leader Jonas Savimbi had to be "crushed" if peace was to be restored to Angola. He was quoted in news reports as saying that "the defeat of Savimbi will be for the best economic and development interest of our region, and no one must harbour any illusions about this."

Meanwhile, the European Commission said in a statement on Monday that US $7 million would be channelled to Angola through its Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO). It said that "key objectives" were to improve health conditions of vulnerable populations and to ensure access, coordination and the supply of goods to humanitarian operations. (IRIN)

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