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Angolan forces capture rebel centre in south

IN WHAT could be a turning point in Angola's 25-year civil war, government troops and Namibian forces have captured the rebel stronghold of Jamba,secured the country's entire 780-mile southern border and, crucially, cut off the rebels' supply lines.

The Angolan war spilled over its southern borders recently when Namibia granted the Angolan government permission to use its soil and security forces for an offensive against Jonas Savimbi's rebel group Unita (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola).

Last week heavy fighting along the border forced tourists and locals in northern Namibia to flee, and prompted fears of instability in southern Africa. Human rights organisations claim there have been scores of deaths, including the execution, in both countries, of villagers suspected of supporting one side or the other.

Victory for the Angolan government in the south was achieved at the weekend. An Angolan officer confirmed on Monday that Unita had been driven from strongholds in Savate, Cuangar, Calai, Xamavera, Dirico and Mucusso.

The rebels' central highlands headquarters, Andulo and Bailundo, fell in October - another watershed in a war that resumed a year ago after the collapse of a 1994 United Nations' peace deal. The government claims it has destroyed or captured about 80 per cent of Unita's military material, and that more than 5,600 of its 60,000 fighters have surrendered.

The battle for Jamba, in the south-east of the country, is a symbolic as well as strategic victory for the government. It was Unita's headquarters from 1975 to 1991 and well-placed to receive military aid from South Africa's apartheid government. Around 200 rebels surrendered during the Jamba attack, the newspaper Jornal de Angola reported on Monday.

More crucially, military experts believe that by capturing Jamba and controlling the southern border, the Angolan government has closed Unita's main supply line from Namibia.

Namibia is allied with Angola and Zimbabwe in supporting President Laurent Kabila in the war in Democratic Republic of Congo. It reversed its long determination to keep out of theAngolan conflict after elections in November returned President Sam Nujoma. Namibia accused Unita of spreading unrest in its northern regions. But experts said this move could destabilise southern Africa as countries there become increasingly involved in both wars. The conflicts "seem to be feeding off each other", South African analyst Richard Cornwell, head of the Institute for Security Studies' early warning programme, said.

Escalation of the Angolan war could undermine Congo peace negotiations and lead to instability across the region.

Unita could receive support from the Caprivi Strip in north-eastern Namibia where secessionists who support Unita mounted an anti-Namibian uprising a few months ago. There has also been fighting along Angola's border with Zambia.

Namibia, a vast land on southern Africa's west coast with only 1.6 million people, spectacular scenery and wildlife, is popular with tourists, who, along with rich diamond and mineral pickings, provide the backbone of the economy. After Angolan troops moved in and border fighting broke out, some countries told their nationals to avoid the northern regions.

Thousands of Angolan refugees have fled into Namibia to avoid fighting, and hundreds of Namibians have abandoned border villages.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees says 2,400 Angolans have arrived in recent weeks, and there are7,000 refugees at a new camp south of the border.

Unita still blocks many Angolan roads, and the Angolan government still has to recapture the eastern diamond fields that provide the rebels' principal income. The government also needs to take control of Unita- held farming towns northof Luanda, and secure the borders with Zambia and Congo.