ANGOLA-NAMIBIA: More refugees enter Namibia fleeing fighting
WINDHOEK, 25 November 1999 (IRIN) - Refugees fleeing fighting between Angolan government forces and UNITA rebels have been crossing south into Namibia daily this week as tensions along nearly 700 km of common frontier increased.
According to the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and government officials on Thursday, their exact numbers are difficult to estimate because some have been crossing over in areas where relief officials have not been able to reach them.
“Our latest refugee figures have grown from 2,300 a couple of days ago to 2,400,” Hesdy G. Rathling, UNHCR’s Senior Liaison Officer in Namibia, told IRIN on Thursday. “We have to move them from the border areas near the towns of Rundu and Kahenge as soon as possible because of tensions and the obvious threats to their security. For example, last night after dusk, we registered about 50 new arrivals, but we are still trying to establish how many more are coming over nightly at places where we do not have personnel.”
In two examples of rising tensions along the border, the government said a member of Namibia’s paramilitary Special Field Force had been shot and wounded, allegedly by a UNITA sniper.
The incident occurred at dusk on Tuesday near Rundu as members of the force were assembling refugees who had just crossed south over the Kavango River frontier. Police said he had been admitted to hospital in a stable condition.
In another incident, police said they were checking reports that six Namibian children aged between 14 and 18 had been kidnapped by two UNITA soldiers on the Angolan side of the border outside Rundu.
“These incidents show how important is to get the refugees moved away from the border zone as quickly as possible,” said Rathling. “I am pleased to announce, that following our appeal this week for urgent transport, shelter, food and medical assistance, that the government have been quick to respond. They will provide the transport to get these people to a safer place where we are setting up a new camp well south of the border.”
He said a first group of 71 refugees had been taken on Wednesday to the new refugee camp being set up at Osire, some 230 km north of the Namibian capital, Windhoek. “The government is providing the transport and feeding new arrivals as they come. Once they have been processed, we will take over to see to their requirements.”
As Angolan government forces flush UNITA rebels from long-held strongholds in the south of the country, Rathling said he expected the number of new refugees to grow steadily in coming weeks and said preparations were underway to feed, shelter and assist 5,000 or more in December.