Cabinda separatists outflanked

The ongoing struggle between separatists and government troops in Cabinda took a new turn this week after neighbouring countries pledged to help Angola end years of secessionist strife in the northern enclave.

On Thursday military chiefs from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Congo-Brazzaville, the two countries bordering the oil-rich Cabinda province, offered Angola their "full cooperation".

"We cannot allow certain elements to destabilise our countries," Congo-Brazzaville's General Liuanga Mata reportedly said in a news conference, broadcast by the Luanda-based Catholic Radio Ecclesia.

However, details of what action might be taken remained vague.

Separatists had enjoyed the backing of the then Zairean leader Mobuto Sese Seko and Brazzaville's former president Pascal Lissouba. But regime change in both the DRC and Congo-Brazzaville in the mid 1990s left the separatists without material or diplomatic support for their cause.

Earlier this year the Angolan government beefed up its military presence in Cabinda and conducted a "sweep" against separatist bases along the DRC border.

Angola expert Jaoa Porto of the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies (ISS) noted that FLEC - the main separatist group - had to a large extent been crushed, although pockets of resistance remained in the north of the province.

"The Angolan army is more than well-equipped to deal with the resistance within Cabinda, so the intervention of neighbouring countries is unlikely to have any significant impact on the eventual outcome of the conflict in the province. Angola, however, has played a significant role in the DRC and is expected to engage further with the country, which in many ways is the focal point of its foreign policy," Porto commented.

In 1998 Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe sent troops to aid then president Laurent Desire Kabila against Rwandan- and Ugandan-backed rebels.

"It is also expected that Angola will assist the transitional government in the DRC with several programmes, including the training of the police force," said Porto.