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Friday, 8 June, 2001, 16:23 GMT 17:23 UK
WFP plane hit in Angola
wfp flights
WFP have suspended aid flights
By Justin Pearce in Luanda

A United Nations aircraft carrying food aid for displaced people in Angola was struck this morning by a suspected missile, in the east of the country.

A spokeswoman for the World Food Programme said the aircraft was struck by a suspected missile at an altitude of 5,000 metres, as it approached the town of Luena.

One engine was damaged, but the pilot managed to regain control and land the plane safely.

Flights suspended

The aircraft, a Boeing 727 with a crew of three on board, had been carrying food aid for displaced people in Moxico province.

The spokeswoman said it would not be possible to distinguish the plane's WFP markings at such an altitude, so it could not be assumed that the organisation was being deliberately targetted.

Guerrilla attacks make road transport impossible in most parts of Angola, and hundreds of thousands of displaced people are dependent on food aid which has to be delivered by air.

The WFP says it has sufficient food stocks in Luena for the next few weeks.

It has suspended cargo flights to the area while it investigates whether the plane was indeed hit by a missile.

If this is confirmed, it will be the first such attack on a WFP plane in Angola in two years.

Fighting

The incident follows a month in which Unita guerrillas have made repeated attacks on the ground, many of them in areas throughout the country which were previously considered safe.

On Thursday morning, the rebels struck the town of Namacunde in the extreme south of Angola, killing three people and sending hundreds fleeing over the border to Namibia.

But at the same time, Unita and government leaders have begun hinting at the possibility of peace talks.

Analysts have interpreted the recent Unita attacks as a way of putting pressure on the government, so as to enable the rebel movement to negotiate from a position of strength.

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See also:

26 May 01 | Africa
Rebels free children in Angola
22 May 01 | Africa
Unita attack east of Luanda
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