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Monday, November 15, 1999 Published at 10:55 GMT

World: Africa

Mass grave found in Angola

By Lara Pawson in Luanda

Hundreds of rotting bodies - said to include several top Unita members - have been discovered in a mass grave in Angola's central highland province of Bie.

News of a massacre reached Luanda on Sunday evening when a communique from the head of Angola's armed forces was broadcast by the government-controlled Radio Nacional.

The government is claiming that the massacre is the work of Unita. So it is perhaps ironic then that senior Unita officials, including three generals, are reportedly among the dead.

Until now, the government has given no details about how the bodies were identified or who initially discovered the grave. But it is using the incident to encourage Unita troops to leave rebel leader Jonas Savimbi and surrender themselves to government authorities throughout the country.

Observers in Luanda are doubtful about the validity of the report. The last time a mass grave was allegedly discovered in Bie was in July this year. A team from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights visited the site and found no evidence to support the government's claims.

One Western diplomat said this latest incident is equally intriguing. When the government reports a massacre of Unita officials, he said, the immediate reaction is to assume the government is guilty.

However, until an independent inquiry is carried out, it is impossible to judge either way.

Both government and rebel troops have been accused and proved guilty of carrying out massacres before, but there remain several reports of mass graves which have never been confirmed by independent observers.

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