Unita soldiers in gunfight at the Hotel Turismo: Karl Maier was one of a group of reporters caught up in the worst shooting seen in the Angolan capital of Luanda since its general election

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MOMENTS after we entered the Hotel Turismo in central Luanda yesterday morning, the worst shooting since Angola's general election erupted on the streets outside. Our party of reporters were there to see 12 police officers, taken hostage by soldiers of the opposition National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (Unita) after a car bomb had blown out the windows of the hotel where senior Unita members live.

Suddenly, unidentified gunmen sped by in a black Honda and fired into a group of soldiers loyal to Jonas Savimbi's Unita, wounding at least two. An explosion of gunfire followed.

A dozen Unita soldiers fanned out in front of the hotel and fired their rifles indiscriminately down the road towards police officers, at passing police vehicles and into windows and walls of nearby buildings. One Unita fighter fired his grenade-launcher three times at the police headquarters a block away.

Government police hiding in doorways a few blocks away fired only a few rounds in response. Inside the hotel, near-panic set in when the Unita soldiers heard on their walkie-talkies that a police armoured car was on its way. Unita militants in civilian clothes gathered weapons and ran into the car-park to join the melee.

The shooting was beginning to die down when a Unita brigadier arrived with 30 men. 'Be calm and we will sort out this problem,' he shouted at the soldiers. A few minutes later, General Renato Mateus assumed command of the Unita forces. 'We had nothing else to do but to defend ourselves,' he said. 'After the bomb, they came to attack again, and we are going to defend ourselves to the last.'

Two hours later, a formal ceasefire was reached and negotiations began for the release of the police hostages. Last night they were freed, as were 35 Unita members arrested during the election campaign. At least three people were reported killed, including one man in shorts and rubber flip-flops who lay face down in a pool of blood behind the hotel. Two Unita soldiers said they shot the man because he had a pistol, but bystanders said he was killed because he was wearing a campaign T-shirt of the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA).

The fighting at the Hotel Turismo and at least two other places around Luanda broke out just hours after the arrival of a special mission sent by the United Nations Security Council to calm the political crisis which erupted in Angola in the wake of the first legislative and presidential elections on 29-30 September. Soon after their arrival, the authorities closed Luanda's


Yesterday's violence followed the departure of senior Unita officials for the central highlands town of Huambo for a meeting with Mr Savimbi. After threatening on 3 October to resume Angola's 16-year civil war because of allegations that the government had rigged the polls, Mr Savimbi flew to Huambo, a Unita stronghold, because, according to Unita officials, he feared for his life.

The UN special representative to Angola, Margaret Anstee, met Mr Savimbi on Saturday and quoted him as saying he would be prepared to accept the election results if an investigation did not bear out his charges of election fraud. The latest provisional results showed Mr Savimbi trailing President Jose Eduardo dos Santos by 50.8 per cent to 39 per cent, while the MPLA was beating Unita by 55 per cent to 33 per cent with more than 90 per cent of the vote in.

But many Western diplomats involved in the negotiations fear Mr Savimbi will not accept any results that do not give him the presidency. Yesterday's violence was a haunting reminder of the fighting which ravaged the capital at the outbreak of the civil war in 1975.