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Unita's fierce assault leaves city in flames

LUANDA (AP) - Government troops were holding out yesterday against a furious rebel artillery barrage that has killed dozens of people and left the encircled city of Cuito in flames, Angolan radio reported. Hand-to-hand battles had broken out on the city's southern edge, where penned-in government troops were trying to prevent a Unita rebel breakthrough, an Angolan National Radio correspondent said.

After capturing Angola's second-largest city, Huambo, last year, the rebels turned their heaviest artillery and thousands of troops against Cuito - 415 miles south-east of the capital, Luanda - in an effort to knock out its strategic airport and army base.

For the rebel leader, Jonas Savimbi, born near the central highlands city which is home to many of his ethnic group, the Ovimbundu, capturing Cuito would be an enormous symbolic as well as strategic victory.