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Besieged City Reported In Flames; Fighting On Six Other Fronts

June 15, 1994

LUANDA, Angola (AP) _ Government troops were holding out today against a furious rebel artillery barrage that has killed dozens of people and left the encircled city of Kuito in flames, Angolan radio reported.

Hand-to-hand battles had broken out on the city’s southern edge, where penned-in government troops were trying to prevent a UNITA rebel breakthrough, an Angolan National Radio correspondent said.

The correspondent has been the only source of information from Angola’s third-largest city since the last relief worker was evacuated two weeks ago.

The correspondent, who was not named, estimated that some 50 civilians had been killed by artillery fire since the weekend.

The rebel onslaught against the city, 415 miles southeast of Angola’s capital of Luanda, was reportedly the fiercest since major offensives resumed a month ago.

Strategically important, Kuito also is symbolically important as the capital of the province where UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi was born and where a large portion of his ethnic group, the Ovimbundus, live.

The renewed fighting came as government and rebel negotiators in Lusaka, Zambia, were reportedly making rapid progress toward a settlement to end the war which has raged since 1975.

A peace treaty in 1991 produced 18 months of peace. But the war resumed fiercer than ever in Oct. 1992 after Savimbi accused the government of rigging the nation’s first democratic election.

The fighting has halted humanitarian aid flights throughout the country, leaving more than 2 million Angolans with no source of food, the U.N.’s World Food Program said.

The U.N.‘s humanitarian aid director in Angola, Manuel Aranda da Silva, was scheduled to fly to the rebels’ central highlands headquarters of Huambo today to win security guarantees from the rebels so aid flights could resume.

Fighting today was reported on six other fronts, one of them a critical oil enclave where the UNITA rebels have formed an alliance with another guerrilla group, a military official said.

According to the military official, UNITA forces had linked with guerrillas of the Cabinda Liberation Front/Armed Forces of Cabinda (FLEC/FAC) and attacked government positions in the northern Cabinda enclave.

Virtually all the government’s $3 billion in revenue comes from Cabinda, which is wedged between Zaire and Congo and is where American petroleum company Chevron runs a 310,000 barrels-per-day pumping operation.

Without Cabinda, diplomats in Luanda have said, the government would be helpless against Savimbi’s rebel National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), which keeps its own war chest flush with revenue from occupied diamond fields in northern Angola.

The military official said the government military has deployed its top commando unit to reinforce Cabinda.

Although the armed separatist group FLEC/FAC only reckons its forces in the dozens, compared to an estimated 60,000 UNITA rebels, their collaboration allows Savimbi’s fighters to move through the Cabinda jungles.

Meanwhile, rebel artillery battered Malanje, 215 miles southeast of Luanda, and battles flared around rebel territory in diamond-rich Lunda-Sul province, along coastal Benguela, southern Cunene, and central Huambo provinces.

Update hourly