UNITA demands arrest of attackers

Angola's main opposition party, UNITA, on Wednesday called for the immediate arrest of those responsible for attacks against its supporters in recent months.

UNITA vice-president Ernesto Mulato told IRIN that bringing criminal charges against the alleged culprits would "convince" the local population and the international community that the ruling MPLA was not behind the attacks.

UNITA has raised concerns since last year over increased incidents of intimidation of its members by individuals allegedly belonging to MPLA militia groups. Last month several homes were torched in two attacks in the eastern province of Moxico, which UNITA claimed were politically motivated.

The authorities have denied that the ruling party had anything to do with the attacks.

"If the government wants to distance itself from these militia groups then it must go ahead and arrest these people - in this way we will all know that they [MPLA] are not behind these criminal acts. We demand the immediate arrest of those who committed these crimes, as well as the municipal leaders who are encouraging these acts," Mulato said.

He warned that without an immediate response, the country ran the risk of increased violence.

"Within some provinces it is clear that UNITA has made progress in mobilising the population, which has perhaps created resentment among the government supporters. But we have been through many years of war and we cannot allow a small group of people to destroy the peace we have achieved," he said.

After 27 years of civil conflict between UNITA and the government, a peace treaty was signed in April 2002. The country is now moving towards its first post-war national election, although a definite date for the poll is yet to be announced.