Reports from the diamond-rich province of Lunda Norte in north-eastern Angola say police opened fire without warning on peaceful demonstrations by separatists on Sunday, killing one bystander and wounding others.
Protest marches in the region had been organized by a banned political organization, the 'Movimento do Protectorado Lunda-Tchokwé' (MPL-T, Movement for the Lunda-Tchokwé Protectorate), which advocates independence for the Tchokwé peoples who live the former ancient kingdom of the Lundas. The separatists have argued for a measure of autonomy, similar to that accorded to Scotland within the United Kingdom.
Insiders say the MPL-T wrote to Angola's President José Eduardo dos Santos earlier this month to ask for dialogue and for permission to hold a public demonstration. It appears that no march permit was sought from the local authorities.
Up to a thousand supporters are said to have turned out in the town of Luzamba at 7am with the aim of marching to the municipal offices in nearby Cuango, the provincial capital.
Participants said that as they made their way through the town, they saw that police had set up a barricade on the edge of the River Mumbe. As the marchers approached, police at the barricade fired live rounds, with one bullet striking a bystander in the abdomen.
Eye-witnesses say the man who died, Pimbi Txifutxi, a 35 year-old family man, was not taking part in the protest march and was merely making his way to work from a nearby church, bible in hand. He was taken to the Cuango municipal hospital but died within the hour.
Astonishingly, given that Cuango is in the heart of the fabulously wealthy diamond region, the hospital has no morgue. As a result, distraught family members had the task of taking the corpse to another town, Xá-Muteba, 50 kms to the South East.
The man who fired the fatal shots was known to several witnesses who identified him as a man named João Macanza, a security guard working for the Cuango Municipal Command. They say no investigation has been launched and the shooter has not been detained.
However, the local government and branch of Angola's ruling MPLA party has agreed to compensate the victim's family with grain and flour for the wake, in what amounts to an admission of responsibility for the needless death.
According to Alexandre Narciso, who is active in a different (and legal) opposition political party, the PRS, there was a separate incident as a second group of protestors walked through Camarianga district. He told Maka Angola that police officers there also opened fire with live ammunition to force the marchers to stop and went on to detain some 50 people.
Alexandre Narciso says that he was told in person by a local headman (Soba) and member of the ruling MPLA party, that one bullet struck his twelve-year-old son in the right arm. Soba Mwatchissata told him that he had gone to the municipal command offices to demand an explanation and got a beating for his pains.
"He says he was hit over the head and kicked while he was down, all in the presence of the Cuango Operations Chief and First Police Station Commander, Joaquim Tchilóia", says Mr Narciso. "The headman is in the MPLA and yet he was beaten and was told that his son, a minor, was part of the anti-police (*hence anti-MPLA) demonstration."
Maka Angola telephoned the Cuango police chief, Joaquim Tchilóia, who admitted that there were casualties: "Yes, there were victims when the protest was contained. I cannot say any more than that." He referred further enquiries to the municipal commander who he says has the authority to speak to the media on such matters. But the telephones go unanswered at the municipal commander's office and there has been no response to the recorded messages left.
A second protest march organized by the MPL-T took place in the town of Cafunfo, with three groups, each numbering several hundred people apiece, marching from different points in the town towards the centre. They too report being fired on.
"We saw Lieutenant Zito Cassanje, also known as 'Zito Commando', with 12 soldiers in a Unimog vehicle. The lieutenant ordered the Unimog driver to try to disperse the crowd, who had managed to get around the police barricade, by driving through them. People scattered, fearing they would be run over. Then, they opened fire, wounding one lady in the right leg" a local activist and witness named Salvador Fragoso told Maka Angola.
It's not clear why the separatist group called its supporters onto the streets without having a permit to hold public marches. Maka Angola tried to make contact with the MPL-T's leader, José Mateus Zecamutchima, so far without success.
The MPLA says that the police did not have orders to open fire and that if individual officers did so, they may be subject to legal consequences, although so far there has been no indication that any officer has been arrested.