ANGOLA: Rights body claims army torturing civilians in Cabinda

Johannesburg, 23 December 2004 (IRIN) - The Angolan army in Cabinda "arbitrarily detained and tortured civilians with impunity" and is restricting their freedom of movement, despite an apparent end to the decades-long separatist conflict in the oil-rich enclave, Human Rights Watch (HRW) alleged on Thursday.

In the past year, the Angolan army has "subjected civilians to extra-judicial executions, arbitrary arrests, and detention, torture and other mistreatment, as well as sexual violence", the New York-based rights organisation stated in a briefing paper.

The Angolan ambassador to South Africa, Isaac Maria dos Anjos, refuted HRW's allegations and went on to say, "You cannot resolve all the problems within three years, after more than 20 years of war. We need to sit down and talk with all the sides. If people are facing problems they must raise it with the authorities."

However, HRW said the authorities had "generally failed to investigate or prosecute abuses against civilians in which the Angolan army has been implicated. In some instances, the Angolan army has responded merely by transferring the alleged perpetrators, including officers and the perpetrators' unit, elsewhere in Cabinda or to another province."

Two years ago, about 30,000 Angolan troops were deployed in Cabinda, where secessionist conflict has continued since Angola's independence in 1975. The separatist movement, Front for the Liberation of the Cabinda Enclave (FLEC) and its various factions want it to be recognised as an independent state, while the Angolan government regards the enclave as part of its territory.

The province, divided from the rest of Angola by a strip of the Democratic Republic of Congo, was added to Angola by the Portuguese. FLEC began fighting for the enclave's independence in 1963 and continued their resistance when the MPLA took over in 1975.

"While the conflict has died down, the Angolan army continues to commit crimes against civilians in Cabinda," claimed Peter Takirambudde, executive director of HRW's Africa Division. "The Angolan government must put an end to impunity and bring the abusers to justice."

HRW said that in August 2004 it had interviewed civilians who had allegedly been arbitrarily detained and tortured by the Angolan army on suspicion of being rebel supporters or combatants. Some were allegedly detained for extended periods, or detained more than once.

The rights organisation has called on the Angolan army to hold apprehended persons in official detention centres; immediately release any persons unlawfully detained by the military, and transfer persons held for criminal offences to civilian authority.

Theme (s): Governance, Human Rights,


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