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Portugal Says Angolan Rebels Freed 170 hostages

March 17, 1986

LISBON, Portugal (AP) _ Anti-communist rebels have freed more than 170 foreign hostages taken March 1 during a raid on a diamond-mining town in northeastern Angola, a Portuguese government official said Monday.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Rui Brito e Cunha said the freed captives were being cared for by the Red Cross in Zaire, which borders the Marxist-ruled former Portuguese colony, and were expected to be repatriated by next Sunday.

He said all members of the group, including women and children, were in good condition. Brito e Cunha said news of the release came from the Red Cross, which identified the former hostages as about 90 Portuguese, 80 Filipinos, four Britons, two West Germans, a Canadian and a Romanian.

Portuguese Prime Minister Anibal Cavaco Silva ordered a jetliner to stand ready for a flight to Kinshasa, capital of Zaire, to bring the former hostages to Lisbon, the spokesman said.

A high-ranking official of the guerrilla group, UNITA, told The Associated Press his organization had sought the cooperation of the Internional Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in releasing the captives. Otherwise, he said, the prisoners would have faced a difficult 800-mile trek to guerrilla strongholds in southeastern Angola.

In Geneva, the Red Cross said in a statement: ″Zaire employed the services of the ICRC so that for urgent humanitarian reasons the repatriation of everyone would proceed as quickly as possible.″

Alvaro Guerra, Portuguese ambassador to Zaire, reported that the Red Cross was arranging to move the hostages from the border area to Kinshasa, probably on Friday, Cunha e Brito said.

UNITA guerrillas, backed by both the United States and South Africa, seized the hostages when they stormed the town of Andrada in northeastern Angola near the Zaire border. Sixty government soldiers and 15 rebels were reported killed in a three-hour battle.

It was the largest group of hostages seized by the guerrillas in their effort to deter foreign workers from helping Angola and the first time they freed captives in Zaire, which publicly supports the Marxist government.

Jonas Savimbi’s UNITA guerrillas originally said they would march the hostages to their bush headquarters at Jamba, close to the frontier with South-West Africa, the territory under South African control that also is known as Namibia.

The guerrilla official visiting Lisbon, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the plans were changed in order to spare women and children a trek of six to eight weeks through war zones in the rainy season.

He would n say whether the decision stemmed from U.S. pressure.

Commentators in Lisbon had said that UNITA’s seizure of foreign hostages less than a month after the United States approved $15 million in aid for the rebels could embarrass the Reagan administration.

U.S.-supplied weapons are expected to reach Savimbi’s guerrillas in time for an expected government offensive against their southern bases when the rainy season ends in mid-April, according to the rebel official here.

UNITA, whose formal name is the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, has been fighting Angola’s Marxist government since shortly after independence in 1975.

The government is supported by an estimated 30,000 Cuban soldiers and an undetermined number of advisers from the Soviet Union and its allies.

Asked whether he would meet Frank Wisner, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs, the UNITA official said: ″It’s not out of the question, but I don’t know.″ Wisner is to arrive here Tuesday for a 24-hour visit.

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