Troops seek Angola captives

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The Independent Online
A LARGE force of Angolan government commandos is searching remote north-east Angola for five captives, including a Briton, taken from the Yetwene diamond mine at the weekend. The Angolan government has moved reinforcements into the area to help the search.

Yesterday one survivor arrived on foot and unharmed in the town of Lucapa, 20kmfrom the mine. It is not yet known whether he was one of the men believed to be held captive. There has been no sign of Jason Pope, the 26-year-old geologist from Devon, who disappeared after about 50 soldiers, some dressed in Unita uniforms, attacked the mine camp on Sunday.

Two British men were killed during two hours of heavy gunfire. Another Englishman escaped.

It has emerged that the attack on Yetwene was not the first on foreign diamond interests in Angola, although it was by far the most serious. One month ago, a unit from the Angolan security company Protector, which was in the bush to guard an exploration team from Petra Diamonds, was attacked east of the town of Saurimo. A South African officer and a number of Angolans were killed.

"We don't know numbers," said Petra Diamonds' chief executive, Adonis Pourolis. "The attackers stole food."

A South African working for Petra Diamonds was killed when his car hit a land-mine. Another mining company also lost a worker in a recent land-mine attack.

Yetwene mine is run by the Canadian-owned DiamondWorks, the major foreign diamond mining company in Angola. DiamondWorks will have to decide whether to remain at Yetwene. "The decision will be crucial to the confidence of other mining companies," said one source.

It is believed that the attacks are designed by Unita (the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola) to destabilise the Angolan government's relationship with foreign investors.

DiamondWorks' chief executive, Bruce Walsham, and major shareholder, British businessman Tony Buckingham, arrived in Angola late on Tuesday and have been in constant meetings with government, military and local officials, a company spokesperson said.

Mr Pope's mother said yesterday she is "optimistic" he will be released unharmed.