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Unita fights back after losing city

LUANDA - Unita rebel forces yesterday launched a counter-offensive against Angolan government troops around the central town of Huambo, military sources reported. State radio said Unita troops, who had been driven out of the centre of Huambo, opened up with long-range artillery.

New Unita troop movements were also observed 25 miles from Cuito in the central province of Bie, where fighting had taken place on Saturday. The radio said government forces had taken many prisoners in Cuito, including several Unita officers.

On Sunday Unita (the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola) denied that its leader, Jonas Savimbi, had fled from his traditional stronghold in Huambo, and said heavy fighting in the region had left 'hundreds dead' among government forces.

Mr Savimbi, whose precise whereabouts remain a mystery, declared on Unita's radio that he was still in Huambo. But United Nations sources said the city centre was firmly under government control. State radio reported that fighting was none the less continuing in the southern part of Huambo.

No casualty figures for the government's week-long offensive were available, but state radio reported that many bodies were still lying in the streets of Huambo.

Unita radio said heavy fighting was also continuing in Cuito, although military sources in Luanda insisted that apart from Huambo the country appeared tense but quiet. A civilian contacted by radio in Cuito early yesterday said: 'There is no more war.'

Analysts in Luanda believe the government of President Jose Eduardo dos Santos has embarked on an offensive to reassert its authority over the country after Unita took control of a number of urban centres in September after its defeat in elections.