Separatists in Angola's northern Cabinda province on Thursday said they would continue their struggle for independence despite the recent defection of several key officials to the ruling party.
A spokesman for one of the rebel groups, Front for the Liberation of the Cabinda Enclave - Cabinda Armed Forces, (FLEC-FAC), told IRIN the movement was still "active" and "determined to find a solution through dialogue".
"The defections have not undermined the credibility of our struggle. It would take a lot more than a few people breaking ranks to diminish our commitment to an independent Cabinda. However, we have made a few changes in our internal structure and are prepared move forward to finding a peaceful solution," Xavier Builo, a representative of FLEC-FAC in the Netherlands said.
Last month seven top FLEC-FAC military officials, including the group's chief of general staff, Francisco Luemba, handed themselves over to government authorities.
The defectors claimed the separatist group lacked morale and was under-resourced following a government offensive in the area last October.
But Builo denied that FLEC-FAC was faltering and said the defectors had switched allegiances out of "personal interest".
Cabinda accounts for 60 percent of Angola's oil revenues. Attempts to negotiate a ceasefire and hold talks on the future of the enclave have so far failed.
A thaw in relations between the separatists and the government came in January, but neither side has acted on proposals put forward at the meeting in Paris.
While the various factions of FLEC see independence as the ideal resolution of the conflict, the government has stated its willingness to discuss autonomy as its preferred solution.
"Since January we have not heard anything from the government. We remain open to negotiations but do not want the ruling MPLA to impose their wishes on us. We want to have an equal say in finding a solution," Builo added.
According to the state-controlled news agency, Angop, the situation in the region was "stable".
Angop quoted Angolan Armed Forces (FAA) chief-of-staff, Armando da Cruz Neto, as saying: "In an effort to pacify the province and re-establish peace, tension areas in Cabinda would be identified and controlled."
Human rights groups have pointed to ongoing rights violations in the region.
Open Society country representative Rafael Marques told IRIN: "The fact that the guerrilla fighters are widely dispersed throughout Cabindan villages has greatly increased the vulnerability of civilians."
He added that the military presence was most repressive in the interior of Cabinda.
"In order to avoid any contact between the population and FLEC, farmers and women are prohibited from going into the fields without a military escort. The number of hours that people can use Rio Luali and other rivers to fetch water, wash, fish, and travel, are also restricted. Furthermore, many villages have been looted or completely destroyed, forcing their inhabitants to take refuge in the forests," Marques said.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions