Angola rebels close to seizing key town

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The Independent Online
REBEL FORCES were said to be closing on a strategic town in Angola yesterday, endangering food shipments to tens of thousands of refugees. With reports that Unita rebels were as close as 25 miles from Kuito, government authorities have told aid workers to leave the central Angolan town.

The focus on Kuito, the capital of Bie province, comes as the United Nations prepared to abandon its peacekeeping mission in Angola after civil war reignited last December.

The World Food Programme, which is feeding hundreds of thousands of refugees in the vast south-west African country, has already evacuated its non- essential staff from Kuito.

In addition, one Red Cross delegate left and another remained, the International Committee of the Red Cross, said in Geneva. The WFP is airlifting corn, beans, cooking oil and other supplies to 55,000 people in Kuito, most of them refugees.

The unpaved roads to the town are usually impassable because of fighting and torrential rains.

Aid workers say if fighting hits Kuito, its airport could be closed, cutting off the town from food supplies.

The population of Kuito, 360 miles south-east of the capital Luanda, doubled to 400,000 two months ago as villagers fled fighting in the countryside between government forces and the rebels.

The United Nations Security Council voted on 26 February to close the UN peacekeeping mission in Angola, saying there was no more peace to keep after a 20-year civil war resumed. The council called for the phasing out of the UN Observer Mission in Angola by next Saturday.

Kofi Annan, UN Secretary-General, cautioned against blaming the United Nations for the mission's failure, saying the government and the rebel group Unita must bear responsibility. (AP)