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Tuesday, 3 July, 2001, 10:42 GMT 11:42 UK
Analysis: Unita's changing tactics
Kuito
Much of Angola has been devastated by the war
By Justin Pearce in Luanda

A series of high-profile attacks by the Unita rebel movement in Angola has raised questions about the current strength of the movement.

Unita was all but routed in 1999, but has managed to regroup since then, operating no longer as a conventional army but as an increasingly effective guerilla force.

The rebels' main aim at the moment seems to be to strike hard in the Angolan Government's own heartland


The latest attack in Uige was a hit and run affair
Last week's attack on the northern Angolan town of Uige was just the latest in a series of daring assaults by Unita.

An Angolan army officer spoke of the rebels coming from north, south, east and west - a well planned operation, particularly considering that less than two years ago Unita appeared almost completely defeated.

Pattern

A pattern has emerged over the last few months: Unita troops will enter a town and occupy it for several hours or longer, before fleeing as the Angolan army sends in reinforcements.

The rebels usually carry off whatever weapons, food and clothing they can get their hands on.

Unita soldier
Unita have changed their tactics
All of the recent major rebel assaults have been on towns on the coast and in the north western corner of the country - significantly, the areas from which the ruling MPLA party draws its core support.

Government members have regularly stated that the army is close to an outright victory, and the recent attacks seem intended as a brutal reminder that Unita is still a force to be reckoned with.

The rebels also continue to raid villages and loot crops in Angola's central highlands - the area which Unita regards as its own.

But there have been no major attacks on towns there.

Once again this seems to suggest that the rebels are mostly interested in attacking towns which were previously thought to be safe government territory.

Initiative

The adoption of guerrilla tactics has given Unita the military initiative.

Maionga Isaura
Children continue to suffer in this long-running conflict
The army has always managed to expel the rebels from towns that have been invaded, but only after the damage has been done.

This style of warfare also makes it more difficult for the army to strike at Unita's bases, and easier for the rebels to adapt and regroup when attacked.

Although Unita is believed still to posses tanks and other heavy weaponry, its current guerrilla campaign appears to have been waged entirely with portable weapons, such as mortars and rocket launchers.

Despite international sanctions, Unita is still estimated to be earning $100m a year from illegal diamond sales.

The military research company, Jane's Sentinel Security Assessments, says the rebels are continuing to purchase arms from brokers based elsewhere in Southern Africa.

But the rebels also retain substantial weapons stockpiles within Angola.

They have replenished their stocks during raids on military bases, and there are also reports of weapons intended for the use of the army being diverted instead to Unita.

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See also:

13 Jun 01 | Africa
Savimbi: No end to war
19 Jun 01 | Africa
Angola's civil war in pictures
26 May 01 | Africa
Rebels free children in Angola
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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