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Monday, 12 November, 2001, 11:59 GMT
Angolan troops abduct Zambians
Angolan refugees
Thousands of Angolans have fled to Zambia
By Richard Lee in Lusaka

Angolan Government troops have reportedly abducted more than 50 Zambian civilians during a cross-border raid.

The soldiers entered Zambia's western province on Friday in pursuit of members of the Angolan rebel movement, Unita, who had fled there following a fierce battle close to the frontier.

We are still waiting for details from Zambia army personnel who have been sent to the area

Lemmy Kajoba
Police spokesman
Having failed to find the rebels, the troops rounded up scores of civilians from villages in the district of Shang'ombo before heading back to Angola, according to the authorities in Lusaka.

The raid is the first major incursion for several months and is bound to undermine recent efforts to ease tensions between the two countries, especially as Zambia is already struggling to cope with a large surge in the number of Angolan refugees crossing the border.

Hot pursuit

Details remain sketchy but police spokesman Lemmy Kajoba said that the troops had apparently entered Zambia in hot pursuit of Unita rebels.

Unita soldier
Unita has been fighting for more than 25 years

He added that he had no idea why the civilians - including a primary school teacher and a nurse from the local clinic - had been rounded up.

Nor did he know exactly where they had been taken inside Angola.

As for the fleeing Unita rebels, Mr Kajoba said that their whereabouts were also unknown.

Zambian army reinforcements have been rushed to the area to enhance security along the border and to fully investigate the incident.

Severely strained

There has been no response so far from the Angolan authorities and the abductions cannot be independently verified.

Even so, reports of another incursion by Angolan troops into Zambia are bound to increase tensions between the two countries.

For years, relations had been severely strained.

While Angola routinely accused Zambia of providing support for Unita, Zambia complained that Angola was expanding its military activities against the rebels onto Zambian soil.

President dos Santos
President dos Santos has accused Zambian officials of helping Unita

But in February, the two sides finally signed an agreement to help resolve their border disputes and a subsequent visit by the Angolan president to Lusaka appeared to have cemented a new, less hostile relationship.

However, if the Angolan authorities do not act swiftly, Friday's mass abduction will put this new relationship under enormous pressure, especially as Zambia is already battling with yet another Angola-related problem - a massive surge in the number of refugees seeking sanctuary across the border.

See also:

09 Nov 01 | Africa
Angola warns new conscripts
01 Nov 01 | Africa
Signs of peace in Angola
23 Oct 01 | Africa
Angolan election pledge
01 Jun 00 | Africa
Angola warns Zambia
26 May 00 | Africa
Zambian leader warns Angola
10 Dec 99 | Africa
Angolan refugees flee into Zambia
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