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Thursday, January 8, 1998 Published at 22:38 GMT

image: [ BBC Despatches ]

The Angolan government says it's taken control of all the diamond mines in the country's hotly-contested Cuango Valley. For several years the Cuango mines have provided the opposition Unita movement with around seventy per cent of its income. Agreeing a formula for sharing the diamond profits has been one of the main issues holding up the implementation of Unita's three-year-old peace agreement with the government. From the Angolan capital, Luanda, Anna Richardson reports:

Unita is estimated to have been earning five-hundred-million dollars a year from its diamond sales. This income has been a major factor in enabling the former rebel movement to maintain its opposition to the Angolan government for the last two decades.

In the past eight months, under the Angolan peace process, Unita has returned large tracts of Angola to government administration, but because around seventy per cent of Unita's diamonds originate in the Cuango River Valley in north-eastern Angola, the movement has adamantly refused to hand the area over to government control until an agreement could be reached granting the rebels a future stake in the diamond mines. Last September Unita and the government reached an informal agreement that Unita could continue to mine the Cuango Valley until the end of December.

In the meantime, the two sides were to finalize a deal granting Unita a percentage of future profits from the diamond mines; Unita was then to withdraw voluntarily from the area. It now appears that the government pre-empted that agreement by moving over a thousand troops into the area and blocking off the entrances to all of Unita's mines.

Unable to continue their operations, Unita's miners were forced to withdraw. The Angolan government has now confirmed that it took control of the last of the Cuango Valley mines at the end of December.

What is still unclear is whether it first reached a profit-sharing deal with Unita or whether the rebel movement has relinquished its primary source of income without managing to extract any guarantees for the future.

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