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U.N. Pulls Out of Angola War Zones

January 5, 1999

LUANDA, Angola (AP) _ The United Nations pulled more workers out of war zones throughout Angola on Monday and sent an envoy to investigate the downing of two U.N.-chartered planes in the central highlands.

The envoy, Benon Sevan, said he brought messages from U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan for the leaders of the warring sides _ President Jose Eduardo dos Santos and UNITA rebel leader Jonas Savimbi. He declined to reveal the contents of the letters, but said he intended to deliver them personally.

Sevan said he would also evaluate the security of U.N. personnel.

Annan had appealed to both sides to let a rescue team look for survivors of the crashed planes, which went down near Huambo, 300 miles southeast of the capital, Luanda.

A U.N.-chartered C-130 cargo plane with 14 people on board crashed Dec. 26 in the central highlands near Huambo. A second chartered C-130, with eight people on board, went down in the same area Saturday.

Among those missing were John Wilkinson and his 25-year-old son, Hilton, both of South Africa. The elder Wilkinson was the pilot of the first plane, and his son, also a pilot, was aboard the second, their family said.

The government says the aircraft were hit by rebel anti-aircraft fire. The United Nations, which initially attributed the downings to UNITA, said later the crashes over rebel-held territory were being investigated and refused to attribute blame.

The United Nations on Sunday suspended all its flights in Angola until further notice.

Meanwhile, the U.N. mission charged with overseeing the country’s shattered 1994 peace accord continued evacuating its 1,000 staffers from war zones in the vast southwest African nation to the capital, Luanda.

The permanent U.N. special representative in Luanda said Monday that peacemakers could be pulled out of the country or they could have their mandate extended and be authorized to use their weapons.

``The United Nations is studying every alternative: either withdrawing the U.N. Observer Mission from Angola, or redeploying its peacekeepers who, this time, will be authorized to use their weapons,″ said Issa Diallo, speaking on state radio.

During a U.N. Security Council meeting Monday, and over the weekend at a meeting of some of the 34 nations that contribute troops to the Angolan mission, several delegations questioned the wisdom of keeping peacekeepers in Angola when there was clearly no peace to keep, council diplomats said.

A report from Annan due Jan. 15 may determine whether the council keeps the U.N. observer mission in the country beyond the Feb. 26 expiration of its mandate.

The Angolan government has offered its full cooperation in reaching the crash sites, but the rebels have not yet responded to the appeal, U.N. officials said.

The government says captured rebels reported that survivors of the first crash were being held at UNITA bases, but rebel officials have denied that.

The Security Council has blamed UNITA for the collapse of the peace process, prompting an angry reaction from the rebels, who say they were first attacked by government forces.

Government troops reportedly have driven back rebels in recent fighting in Huambo and Kuito, 80 miles to the east, raising hopes that aid can soon be flown to thousands of displaced people.

The World Food Program hopes to resume flights into the cities on Wednesday, spokesman Cesar Arroio said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross and WFP last flew food, blankets, medicine and soap into Huambo on Saturday. The food will last for at least several weeks, Arroio said.

UNITA _ a Portuguese acronym for the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola _ has stymied the quest for peace by refusing to relinquish control of its central highland strongholds and by keeping a 30,000-strong army hidden in the bush.

The accord unraveled in December, when government troops tried to take the strongholds by force and were beaten back.

Update hourly