Angola rebels face crushing offensive

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The Independent Online
ANGOLA'S rebuilt armed forces are racing to deliver a body blow to Jonas Savimbi's Unita rebel movement, before a conclusion to 10 months of UN- sponsored peace negotiations in Lusaka forces the government to halt the offensive. The Angolan Armed Forces, the FAA, are capitalising on recent victories by launching assaults on the oil-producing town of Soyo and on Huambo, the headquarters of Unita.

Western sources predict a strike against Huambo in the next 30 days. Unita's radio station warns of an attack on Soyo, formerly the source of one-third of Angola's daily oil production of 500,000 barrels.

Negotiatorsin Lusaka appeared this week to be reaching an end to peace talks, after Unita dropped its demand to keep the governorship of Huambo as part of a 'national reconciliation' package. President Jose Eduardo dos Santos's government has offered Unita four ministries, three governorships and the right to name administrators to dozens of towns. Mr Savimbi agreed to hand over Huambo to avoid its capture. His forces suffered defeats recently in the provincial capital of Ndalatando, the central highlands city of Cuito and in the diamond-producing areas around Kafunfo.

The United Nations special envoy to Angola, James Jonah, has urged both sides to refrain from offensives. Negotiators in Lusaka agreed this week on a new UN ceasefire mission, to include several thousand peace- keepers. Bangladesh, Tanzania and Zimbabwe have agreed to contribute troops.

But the FAA chief of staff, General Joao de Matos, 38, is not willing to halt the government offensive, now Huambo is in reach. The army believes Mr Savimbi's new flexibility is a tactic to save his forces from further defeats. Visitors to Huambo have reported low morale among Unita supporters and say young boys are being dragooned into the rebel army.

Western analysts say the government is preparing to attack Huambo from Benguela in the west, Cuito in the east, and from the north. Aerial bombardment could precede the assault, which may begin with a raid by helicopter-borne commandos. Recently Unita has attacked the central highlands towns of Cubal and Caimbambo to stop government troops moving from Benguela to Huambo. Unita seized 70 per cent of Angola after Mr Savimbi scuttled UN-monitored elections in 1992. Huambo fell to Unita in March 1993 after a 55-day siege. But General Matos has built up the army by purchasing new military equipment and training 4,000 elite commandos.

The change of fortunes began in April when the government recaptured Ndalatando. In July they drove Unita from the diamond areas around Kafunfo. At the same time government forces blasted the rebels out of Cuito.