14 July 2006

Angola: Cabinda Separatists Divided Over Peace Talks

Johannesburg — Talks on ending a 30-year separatist rebellion in Angola's Cabinda province have been underway this week in neighbouring Congo Brazzaville, but it is unclear whether rebel forces will endorse the negotiations.

Angola's minister of Territory Administration, Virgílio Fontes Pereir, met on Thursday with António Bento Bembe, a former Front for the Liberation of Cabinda (FLEC) leader who claims to represent the Cabinda Forum for Dialogue (FDC), to discuss a peace deal in which the oil-rich enclave will be awarded "special administrative status".

But a senior member of FLEC's General Staff, who wished to remain anonymous, told IRIN: "We will not cease fire because that agreement is only with Bembe - whatever he is doing, it has nothing to do with FLEC. Bembe does not represent the aspirations of the people of Cabinda."

According to statement issued by FLEC's military chief of staff on Wednesday, "military action in the field continues", with the last "action on July 4 claiming the lives of four Angolan soldiers and injuring two in the area of M'Pumbo Chionzo" in the northeast.

But the Angola Press Agency (Angop) quoted an upbeat Pereir as saying, "This [deal] will certainly bring us together, [and] can make feasible an efficacious governance in Cabinda that permits the acceleration of reconstruction and development of Cabinda and, essentially, secure the satisfaction of the diverse interests of the populations."

Raul Danda, a member of the FDC and head of a Cabindan human rights NGO, maintained that FLEC's president, N'Zita Tiago, was unaware of an agreement, and said Bembe had no authority to negotiate on behalf of FLEC. "Mr Tiago is the only one who could get the soldiers to stop fighting, and even the soldiers themselves have said they do not recognise the agreement," he commented.

A recent FDC statement denounced Bembe for allegedly negotiating with the Angolan government "for personal reasons". The FDC is the representative body of the oil-rich enclave's secessionist movements and includes civil society groups, Catholic Church representatives and FLEC.

Angop reported that the Angolan government had restated its intention to "reintegrate" FLEC separatists into both security and civil roles in a future semi-autonomous province.

"If the Angolan government needs to discuss this issue seriously they need to contact FLEC and talk to the right people. They know where to find us," the senior FLEC commander said.

Cabinda, which produces 60 percent of Angola's oil, is a sliver of land sandwiched between Congo Brazzaville and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is internationally recognised as part of Angola, but Luanda's control has been resisted by the FLEC and its various offshoots since independence in 1975.

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

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