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Tuesday, 6 August, 2002, 16:33 GMT 17:33 UK
DR Congo rebels stranded in Angola
DR Congo rebels
Abandoned by Angola and unwanted in DR Congo

About 300 rebel soldiers from the Democratic Republic of Congo are currently stranded in Angola, where they were fighting alongside the Angolan Unita rebels in the final years of the Angolan civil war.


I want to go home. I believe I can

Captain Raphael Acolo
"We are in Angola as exiles," says Captain Raphael Akolo of the Congolese Rally for Democracy rebel movement - one of about 40 Congolese rebel soldiers living in a quartering area with Unita members in the village of Uamba, in Uige province, northern Angola.

The other Congolese rebels believed to be in Angola are spread among various Unita quartering areas in provinces bordering on DR Congo.

This border has been a porous one for many years.

Common interest

In the days of Mobuto Sese Seko, Zaire, as it was then known, was a conduit for weapons supplied to Unita by the United States.

Then when DR Congo faced a rebellion against then President Laurent Kabila, the Angolan Government sent in troops in Kabila's defence, attacking the Congolese rebels.

Colonel Frederic Ngongo
Colonel Ngongo and his men still hope to go home

Captain Akolo denies that his movement was in a formal alliance with Unita.

"It was a fact of the war that gave us a common interest," he said.

"The Angolan national army came to destroy our base."

The Congolese come from several different areas of DR Congo.

Disillusioned

Colonel Frederic Ngongo, the commander of the Congolese soldiers in Uamba, says his fight had nothing to do with the tensions in eastern Congo which are often seen as the root of country's problems.

"That was the Rwandans' problem, between the Tutsis and the Interahamwe," he says.

"Our concern was saving democracy."

Major Moises Akizai says he had fought in the Congolese Armed Forces - Laurent Kabila's army - before becoming disillusioned with the then president.

"We left Congo because of the situation of war.

"Our government was not working well."

In northern Angola, Unita was strong right up until the end of the Angolan war.

It was Unita's losses in the east of the country that led to the peace agreement in April.

This accord designated the quartering areas where Unita troops were to assemble to be demobilised - and foreign soldiers fighting alongside Unita were supposed to join them.

"We are waiting for the evolution of the political problems in DR Congo for us to able to go home," Colonel Ngongo says.

"We want to go back to our country when the security conditions permit."

Abandoned

But meanwhile, the men are in a difficult situation.

Humanitarian organisations say they will only offer help to civilians, not to rebel soldiers.

But now that Unita's army has officially been disbanded, the Angolan military is expected to hand over the quartering areas to civilian control - and so no one will have direct responsibility for these stranded soldiers.

Ex-Unita soldiers in demobilisation camp
Former rebels are waiting for civilian training

The Angolan Government has asked the International Committee of the Red Cross to try to help the Congolese get home - no easy task when the men come from many different parts of a country which is still split between areas of government and rebel control.

Captain Akolo is optimistic nevertheless:

"I want to go home. I believe I can.

"International organisations can intervene, and in the current situation there are openings, negotiations are beginning.

"We will go back."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Justin Pearce reporting for Focus on Africa
"We are in Angola as exiles"
Jonas Savimbi, killed after 26 years of civil war

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02 Aug 02 | Africa
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23 May 02 | Africa
16 May 02 | Africa
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