Britons seized as Angola war erupts again

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FORCES of the former rebel movement, Unita, have seized several Britons working in the diamond mines in the east of Angola. The Britons, about six in number, are understood to be unharmed but may be held hostage by Unita in its attempt to force international recognition. Britons have been advised by the Foreign Office to leave Angola 'without delay'.

Portuguese, Filipinos, Brazilians and South Africans are also believed to be among those captured when Unita seized the diamond mining town of Cafunfu on Thursday night. In the past Unita force-marched captured expatriates hundreds of miles across Angola to its base at Jamba in southern Angola. At least a dozen co- ordinated attacks by Unita in the early hours of yesterday morning have plunged Angola back into civil war after the rebel movement lost last month's election. There are fears that Jonas Savimbi, the Unita leader, is trying to seize power by force of arms or at least take over the south of Angola and split the country in two.

In Luanda at least 15 people were killed when they bombarded a suburb with mortar and artillery fire. They also attacked government positions in Huambo in the central highlands where Mr Savimbi has his headquarters but police loyal to the government are understood to be holding out at the radio station. Lopo de Nascimento, an Angolan minister, said in Pretoria yesterday there was an 'effective situation of war' in Huambo. 'Unita has militarily occupied the city and taken cities along the Benguela railway,' he said.

Attacks also took place in Lobito and Benguela, the main southern ports, and at Cuito, another big town in the south. Observers believe Mr Savimbi is trying to seize a port through which he can import arms.

Security Council members last night extended until 30 November the Angola Verification Mission, known as Univem II, which is made up of 350 military observers, 126 police monitors and 400 electoral supervisors. The council condemned any increase in hostilities in Angola and appealed for an immediate end to such acts. For the fourth time in as many weeks the council also demands that all parties demobilise troops and enlist soldiers in the new Armed Forces of Angola. Since the signing of the peace agreement in May last year Unita has broken the accords by keeping part of its army separate.

The UN resolution expresses 'strong condemnation of the attacks and baseless accusations' made by Unita's radio against the UN operation and a vicious personal attack on Margaret Anstee, the UN special representative in Angola. The attack accused her of being corrupt, incompetent and dishonest and in the pay of the government.

Now it seems that the Unita offensive represents Mr Savimbi's final rejection of last month's election, which he lost by a 10 per cent margin. The elections were judged relatively free and fair by the UN observers as well as by the United States, Unita's former supporter. But Mr Savimbi withdrew his troops from the newly-formed joint army and claimed the elections were fraudulent. The UN admitted there had been irregularities but a detailed examination of the results shows the irregularities were not sufficient to alter the result. Pik Botha, the South African Foreign Minister, began to accept the version of his old ally, Mr Savimbi, that the election was fraudulent until he was shown a detailed breakdown of the results including the verification signatures of Unita election monitors on the ballot sheets.

In the end it seems that Mr Savimbi, who has fought the Angolan government for 16 years in the name of democracy and for many years before that against the Portuguese in the name of nationalism, simply could not accept he had come second. Although his former backers in Pretoria and Washington have said they will not support him if he returns to war he seems to have resorted to the only political method he trusts: the gun.