Angolan rebels and their families 'facing starvation'

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The Independent Online

Tens of thousands of Angolan Unita rebel soldiers and their families are facing starvation, the medical aid charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said yesterday.

The charity said it had found that an average of five people per 10,000 a day are dying in the famine-stricken area of Galangue, a previously inaccessible rural region 500 miles south-east of the capital Luanda.

Up to 10,000 people, mostly rebel soldiers and their families arrived in Galangue recently where "demobilisation camps" have been set up after a ceasefire between Unita and government forces.

After a fact-finding mission in Bie province, about 300 miles south-east of the capital, a Vatican envoy also said the situation in the camps was "catastrophic".

Father Franz Thoolen said: "I saw people who were starving, skeletal, unable to raise an arm to shoo away flies.".

MSF teams have been discovering tens of thousands of starving and sick people as they emerge from Angola's "grey zones" – areas which, after decades of civil war, have been closed off to aid.

Around 42,000 rebel soldiers and more than 70,000 family members have so far arrived in the 33 demobilisation camps across Angola which are designed to take up to 300,000 people in total.

But the government has so far failed to make any food or medical supplies available to the camp dwellers. Senior Unita commanders have asked why the Luanda government, with its oil revenues, has done so little to help.

But MSF blames both Unita and the Angolan army for exacerbating the humanitarian crisis by stealing crops and burning villages.

Unita's Foreign Affairs Secretary, Alcides Sakala, has warned that large groups of Unita soldiers would escape the camps and turn to crime if they did not soon receive medical and food supplies. "The situation could lead to a rise in the crime rate and attacks if they continue to starve," he said.

Government forces signed a ceasefire deal with Unita last month, aimed at ending the civil war that had raged since Angola won independence from Portugal in 1975.

The agreement followed talks that began after government forces killed Jonas Savimbi, the Unita leader, in February, andprovided for the demobilisation of up to 50,000 Unita soldiers, who are supposed to be absorbed into the Angolan army and police force.