Namibian Refugees Begin Returning; Angolans Join Them
WINDHOEK, Namibia (AP) _ About 300 people have crossed into Namibia from Angola, the first sign of a massive repatriation under terms of a U.N.-supervised independence process for this South African-ruled territory, officials said Saturday.
The refugees included both Namibians returning home and Angolans fleeing the Angolan civil war, said Eberhard Hoffman, a spokesman for Namibia’s administrator general.
The U.N. High Commission for Refugees has registered more than than 41,000 Namibians at camps in Angola and Zambia who want to return home, and a U.N.-supervised airlift is to begin Monday.
Hoffman said the refugees crossed the border Friday on foot and had no food or possessions other than the clothes they wore. They were temporarily being housed in tents, he said.
When Namibia’s independence process began April 1 some guerrillas belonging to SWAPO, the group fighting South African rule, entered the territory from bases in southern Angola. Fighting with security forces ensued until SWAPO ordered the guerrillas to return to Angola.
Namibians fled their homeland to Angola and Zambia over the years to escape the 23-year bush war between the security forces and the South-West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO).
Under a regional peace treaty signed in December, South Africa agreed to end its 74-year rule of Namibia in return for Cuba withdrawing its estimated 50,000 troops from Angola where they fought alongside government forces.
Hoffman said he did not know how many Angolans fled into northern Namibia in recent days, but he believed they will be granted refugee status by the United Nations. Angolans fleeing to Namibia did not receive refugee status previously.
In recent months, there have been reports of sporadic fighting, but no major battles, in the Angolan war. It was not clear whether the Angolans leaving their homeland were fleeing a new outbreak of fighting or if they simply decided to accompany the returning Namibian refugees in hopes of receiving U.N. assistance.
Angola has been at civil war since 1975, and most of the fighting between the Marxist government troops and the U.S.-backed UNITA rebels has been in the southern part of the country, near the Namibian border.
UNITA (the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola) was not part of the peace agreement and has continued to fight for a power-sharing agreement with the Angolan government.
Under Namibia’s independence plan, elections are set for November. SWAPO is widely favored to win, but they will need a two-thirds’ majority in order to control the new government. No formal date has been set for independence, but it will likely be early next year.