Angolans fight for control of key city

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The Independent Online
LUANDA (Reuter) - Angolan army troops and rebels were still fighting yesterday for control of Huambo, despite an announcement by the government that the stronghold of the Unita rebels led by Jonas Savimbi had been captured and he had fled.

The state daily newspaper, Jornal de Angola, reported yesterday that Unita forces still controlled residential areas of Huambo, where most of its leaders lived. But state radio made no mention of the Huambo fighting in its main morning bulletin.

Unita's radio station said its leadership was still in Huambo. 'Government forces are still under fire and have sustained heavy human and material losses,' it said. An army communique late on Saturday said that government troops had captured Mr Savimbi's headquarters, a villa known as 'the White House', near the airport, and his supporters were fleeing. There was no independent word on Mr Savimbi's whereabouts. It was unclear whether his private DC-8 aircraft had escaped fighting around the airport.

Both sides say more than 100 people have died in the battle for the city, a provincial capital 300 miles south-east of Luanda.

In Lisbon, the Portuguese news agency Lusa quoted an Angolan general as saying on Saturday night that fighting in Huambo had stopped and it was under government control. He added that Mr Savimbi and other Unita leaders had fled before the attack was launched. Observers in the Angolan capital said it was hard to believe that government forces could take Huambo as easily as they claimed. Unita is estimated to have 20,000 soldiers in Huambo and 8,000-10,000 armed civilians.

State radio said yesterday that Unita forces were massing outside Dundo in the diamond-producing Lunde-Norte province and could be preparing to retake the city.

The Portuguese government yesterday called for urgent talks between the warring factions. The Foreign Ministry said the fighting 'showed signs of becoming all-out and endangering the peace accords'. Unita and the ruling MPLA reached agreement on ending the 16-year civil war in May 1991, but fighting broke out again after Mr Savimbi rejected the results of elections last September in which the MPLA retained power.