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ANGOLA: Violence in Cazombo as houses torched

luanda, 20 July 2004 (IRIN) - Aid workers operating in eastern Angola's Moxico province confirmed on Tuesday that up to 80 homes were burned down in two attacks, which the opposition UNITA party has alleged were politically motivated.

An official from Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) Belgium said between 30 and 80 houses were burned down last week in the town of Cazombo near the Zambian border. "We still don't know the exact number of homes lost," the official said, requesting anonymity.

"Six of our local staff lost their houses in the attacks. It seems the attackers were targeting people who weren't originally from the area, but who came back from Zambia [after the end of Angola's civil war]," he told IRIN.

"We are discussing the incident with the United Nations and are trying to contact the authorities to express our concern. We are worried," he added.

Other aid workers operating in the area alleged that a group of supporters of the ruling MPLA, including police officers dressed in civilian clothes, had gone from house to house, setting them alight.

"Some Angolan aid workers are considering returning to Zambia after this incident, as they're more concerned than ever about the security situation in Cazombo," said one source at a foreign NGO.

Several other sources confirmed that the incident happened when a delegation of the former rebel movement, UNITA, arrived in Cazombo accompanying a new local official.

"A delegation of 13 people travelled from Luena [the provincial capital] to Cazombo to bring in our new UNITA secretary," said Jeconias Samondo, UNITA's spokesman in Moxico. He alleged that the local administrator had refused to receive the delegation and had mobilised a group to protest its arrival.

"The group said they didn't want UNITA in Cazombo. They carried out two attacks: one on Wednesday, the other on Saturday. They targeted the homes of UNITA supporters living in Cazombo, but also people from the Ovimbundu ethnic group [which has formed UNITA's traditional support base]," Samondo said.

"Six people were injured, including the vice-administrator, who is from UNITA," he said, adding that many people, mainly women, had fled into the bush.

"The attack demonstrates political and ethnic intolerance. It's bad for the country's stability and it doesn't bode well for elections either," the spokesman warned.

The incident comes one week after Human Rights Watch issued a report saying that political freedoms outside the capital Luanda were not being respected, and follows a series of allegedly politically motivated attacks against opposition supporters by ruling party militants. MPLA officials were not immediately available for comment.

The ruling party has, however, stressed that it was actively promoting political tolerance and national reconciliation across Angola. The country's first elections since 1992 are expected to take place in 2006.

Theme (s): Conflict, Governance,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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