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Heavy fighting reported

Humanitarian staff working for the United Nations and NGOs have been temporarily withdrawn from the central Angolan towns of Huambo and Kuito amid heavy fighting between government forces and UNITA rebels.

In a telephone call to the IRIN office in Johannesburg from the Angolan capital Luanda, the UN Humanitarian Assistance Coordination Unit (UCAH), said it had been decided on Sunday to withdraw 111 UN and humanitarian staff and their families from Huambo, and 60 others from Kuito some 120 km to the northeast.

A spokesman cited heavy shelling in the Kuito area. Officials told IRIN they were also checking reports that a cargo plane might have been shot down near the town. Flights to and from Huambo, however, were proceeding normally on Monday.

In its latest situation report UCAH said: “Military activities over the past week have forced NGOs to temporarily withdraw their personnel working in agricultural and de-mining projects from the towns of Catabola and Camacupa in Bie province.”

As UNITA forces moved into the two towns, it said “a considerable number of people” had fled to Kuito. With fighting now going in Kuito itself, the spokesman told IRIN it was difficult to check the number of people internally displaced or
to verify claims by either side.

The spokesman said staff from MSF-Belgium, ICRC, Concern, Care International and others stressed that they hoped to return to work as soon as possible.

“The increase in political and military tension has continued unabated throughout the country and with military activities registered, in particular, in the Central Highlands around Huambo, Bie and Malange,” the UCAH report said.

Meanwhile, Angola’s army chief of staff in Angola said in a national television broadcast at the weekend that UNITA currently enjoyed firepower far superior to what it has had in recent years.

General Joao de Matos said better weaponry and tanks had given UNITA the advantage in the latest fighting in the central highlands. He also said he believed that mercenaries from South Africa, Israel, Ukraine and Morocco were helping UNITA.

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

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