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Saturday, 26 May, 2001, 20:16 GMT 21:16 UK
Rebels free children in Angola
Poster of missing children
Unita says the children's capture had been an error
By Justin Pearce in Luanda

A United Nations humanitarian official has confirmed that 60 children and two adult staff members abducted from a school in the Angolan town of Caxito, have been released.

They were handed over to a Catholic mission at Camabatela, more than 200km (125 miles) from Caxito, suggesting that they had to walk a long distance during their captivity.

Maionga Isaura
Maionga Isaura was spared by the kidnappers
From there, the Angolan Armed Forces took them to the nearest airport at Negage, from where they were flown to Luanda.

The children are now being cared for by the humanitarian agency that runs the school.

The Angolan army and the Unita rebels are both trying to take credit for freeing the children.

Anticipated release

But the two warring parties give widely differing accounts of the circumstances surrounding the children's release.

Hopes that the children might be freed first emerged early on Friday afternoon, when Unita issued a statement saying it had released the children.

Several hours later, a colonel in the Angolan armed forces told an independent Angolan radio station that the army had recaptured the children following a fierce battle against Unita forces.


Unita's statement said that capture of the children had been an error, contrary to the rules governing the conduct of Unita soldiers.

It reiterated Unita's desire for negotiations with the government, but ruled out a unilateral ceasefire as demanded by the Angolan Government.

These words are being interpreted as the latest in a series of attempts by Unita to garner some political credibility ahead of possible negotiations.

'Peaceful negotiations'

Earlier this week, an aid worker who was captured during a Unita attack on the town of Goluno Alto, was released after nine hours.

He said the Unita soldiers who held him captive instructed him to tell his organisation that Unita wanted peaceful negotiations, and that Unita had no intention of harming the church or humanitarian organisations.

The soldiers' words seemed to echo a recent letter written by Unita leader Jonas Savimbi to Angola's Catholic bishops, which called on the church to be a mediator in talks between Unita and the government.

One diplomatic source told the BBC some senior ruling party figures had, in private, welcomed the Savimbi letter as a positive development.

Yet Unita attacks have continued, often targeting civilians.

Observers say that if Unita is indeed looking for negotiations, it wants to keep up the pressure on the government, so as to be able to negotiate from a position of strength.

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See also:

22 May 01 | Africa
Unita attack east of Luanda
11 May 01 | Africa
Angolan children relive raid
10 May 01 | Africa
Unita 'made children carry loot'
29 Jan 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Angola
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