The Angola-Cabinda Conflict
ANALYSIS, 2 Aug 2010
Togo’s national football (soccer) team decided 09 January 2010 to withdraw from the African Cup of Nations in Angola after its team was attacked by gunmen. At least two people were killed and at least six others were wounded in the attack. The attack occurred a few minutes after Togo’s team bus, under Angolan military escort, crossed into the Angolan enclave of Cabinda.
As of 2009 the Angolan government claimed that the war in Cabinda is over. However, sporadic attacks on government forces and expatriate workers have continued. A peace deal was signed in 2006 between Angola’s government and the rebels under Bento Bembe’s leadership, but another FLEC faction has refused to sign on. Illegal detention and torture against suspected separatists continued as of late 2009, when FLEC [Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda] claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of a Chinese worker and the killing of several Angolan soldiers. Antonio Bento Bembe, who once led FLEC, is now a minister without portfolio tasked with human rights.
Human Rights Watch said in a report released 22 Jun 2009 that there was a disturbing pattern of human rights violations by the Angolan armed forces and state intelligence officials. Between September 2007 and March 2009, at least 38 people were arbitrarily arrested by the military in Cabinda and accused of state security crimes. Most were subjected to lengthy incommunicado detention, torture, and cruel or inhumane treatment in military custody and were denied due process rights. Many of those detained were residents of villages in the interior of Cabinda who were arrested during military raids that followed armed attacks attributed to the Liberation Front of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC).
Successive attempts over a quarter of a century to end a “secessionist” conflict in Angola’s Cabinda enclave have yet to bear fruit. Political tensions were high in some areas of Cabinda as separatist groups demand a greater share of oil revenue for the province’s population. The separatist groups often kidnapped foreign nationals in an attempt to draw attention to their independence claims. The ongoing low-level insurgency group, Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC), active in Cabinda province has a history of threatening foreign nationals with kidnapping.
Often dubbed “Angola’s forgotten war”, the decades-long conflict in the oil-rich province of 250,000 people took a new turn with a government offensive in October 2002 in the Buco-Zau military region, in northern Cabinda. The armed secessionist movements, with a combined estimated force of no more than 2,000 troops, are no match for the battle-hardened Angolan Armed Forces (FAA – a Portuguese acronym), who in 2002 had finally forced Angola’s UNITA rebel movement to sue for peace after three decades of war in the country.
The Angolan economy is highly dependent on its oil sector, which accounts for about half of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and over 90% of export revenues. Cabinda faces a situation similar to the Niger Delta states in Nigeria. Cabinda produces more than half of Angola’s oil and accounts for nearly all of its foreign exchange earnings. The province receives about 10% of the taxes paid by ChevronTexaco and its partners operating offshore Cabinda.
Situated in Central Africa between Zaire and Congo, Cabinda stretches along the Atlantic coast and covers an area of about 10,000 square kilometers. A strip of Zairian territory 60 km in width divides Angola from Cabinda. The population of Cabinda, which stands at around 300,000 indigenous people, is comparable in numbers to that of the Seychelles (60,000), of Luxemburg (300,000), of the Gambia and of Equatorial Guinea. Although out of this number only one third live in the actual territory of Cabinda. The other two thirds inhabit the surroundings in a generally stable state on Congolese and Zairian territory. Cabindês is the National Language of Cabinda. However, a large number of Cabinda Citizens speak French. The Cabindans at least for the literate among them, are 90% French speaking and only 10% speak Portuguese. The approved commercial languages are German and French. Unlike most African countries where the majority are Animists, the majority of Cabinda People are Christians.
First visited by the portuguese in the late XV century, Cabinda was composed of 3 Kingdoms : Loango, Kakongo and N’Goyo, at the North of the Congo river, and Ndongo, at the South of the Congo river. When the portuguese arrived to the estuary of the Congo in 1482, they found themselves in contact with one of the largest States in Africa south of the Sahara, and with one of the very few large States situated anywhere near the coastline. This was the Kingdom of the Bakongo, a Bantu People whose King, the Man-i-kongo, had his capital at Mbanzakongo, the modern Sao Salvador. The Kongo Kingdom was a typical ‘Sudanic’ state, the nucleus of which had been founded, in the late fourteenth or early, fifteenth century, by a conquering group from the small State of Bungu on the north bank of the lower Congo.
Cabinda became a Portuguese Protectorate with the signing of the Treaty of Simulambuco in 1885, and became known as the Portuguese Congo from the earliest 1900 onward. The Cabindansbase their independence claim on the fact that Cabinda was never part of angola and on the Treaty of Simulambuco of 1885 with the portuguese as a portuguese protectorate state. The treaty was part of portugal’s attempt to consolidate its empire during the European powers’ scramble for Africa in the late 19th century. In the 1933 Constitution defining the Estado Novo, Cabinda and angola were considered distinct and separate parts of portugal. In 1956 Portugal joined the administration of its Protectorate of Cabinda to that of its Colony of angola.
The year 1960 witnessed the creation of the Freedom Movement for the State of Cabinda (MLEC) followed in 1963 by the forming of two other groups (National Action Committee of the Cabindan People – CAUNC and the Mayombé Alliance – ALLIAMA) supporting the same cause. In 1963 the merger of the three main Independence movements (M.L.E.C., ALIAMA, and C.A.U.N.C.) brought about the creation of FLEC in Pointe-Noire (Loango) Congo. In 1974 the portugese government authorized FLEC to establish itself on Cabinda territory.
The invasion of Cabinda happened on the 11 of November 1975, when MPLA troops entered Cabinda via Point Noire. They where financially supported by the Oil Giant Chevron, Chevron paid the MPLA to take over the Cabindan oil fields. MPLA troops are still occupying Cabinda. The American Oil Company Chevron is participating along side the MPLA occupying force. Presently, Sonangol daily production is more than 980 000 barrels bringing in more than $8.000.000 a day, providing 90% of angola’s GNP. As a result, Cabinda is compared to “Kuwait” in Africa. Since the occupation of the Country of Cabinda by the Communist Armed Forces of angola in 1975, one third of the population has fled to other countries, notably Zaire and the Congo where the number is estimated at 950,000 refugees.
Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC) had for years used territory in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Congo-Brazzaville as rear bases from which to launch attacks into Cabinda.
Since the early 1990s, the government of Angola has implemented various measures in order to appease the groups, such as encouraging FLEC members to lay down their arms and join the administration, a move that has met with at least partial success.
The Angolan government has taken heed of complaints from Cabinda’s population about the lack of infrastructure and development in the region and now reinvests 10% of the province’s oil revenues back into the enclave. This is beginning to improve living standards, a crucial element in defusing the conflict.
On 22 May 1996 the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda – Armed Forces of Cabinda (FLEC-FAC) rebels fought with Angolan government troops only a week after FLEC-FAC signed a cease-fire agreement with the government. Since 1975, FLEC-FAC’s 3,000-man army had fought the Angolan government for the 2,880-square mile Cabinda province. By late December 1996 clashes between the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC) and Angolan government troops continued as the respective forces attempt to capture territory previously held by the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). According to a FLEC spokesman, a succession of recent clashes had resulted in more than five dozen deaths and has injured more than 100 combatants.
Throughout the year 2000 members of the separatist group the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC) took hostage several foreigners in Cabinda Province.
In March 2001 FLEC-Renovada, an offshoot of the original FLEC group that is not usually violent, kidnaped five Portuguese employees of a construction company; they were released after 3 months. In May 2000, members of FLEC-FAC kidnaped three foreign and one local employee of a Portuguese company in Cabinda; by July FLEC-FAC had released one of the kidnaped persons for medical reasons. In July it released the remaining abductees.
In 2002 it was widely believed that Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC-FAC), a splinter group of the original FLEC movement, posed the most serious military threat to the government. The government reportedly stationed some 30,000 soldiers in the province for a planned counter-insurgency campaign. In September 2002, the Angolan government announced that it was prepared to open talks with Cabindan separatist groups and offer the province some measure of autonomy, but ruled out the prospect of complete independence. According to Congo, the Angolan Armed Forces advanced into the heart of rebel-held territory and by the end of October 2002 had destroyed Kungo-Shonzo, FLEC-FAC’s main base since 1979, in the municipality of Buco-Zau, 110 km from the provincial capital, Cabinda town. The situation deteriorated in October 2002.
Just months later, FAA General Nundo Sachipengo announced that a FLEC-FAC “command post” in the area had been closed down. At the end of December 2002, FAA claimed it had captured the base of another separatist faction, FLEC-Renovada (FLEC-R).
But the apparent containment of Cabinda’s separatists has come at a high price. In December 2002, civil rights activists in Angola released details of widespread allegations of human rights abuses by the FAA following the October military campaign against the rebels in the Cabinda enclave. The report, “Terror in Cabinda”, contained 20 pages of testimony on alleged abuses, including summary executions, murders, disappearances, arbitrary detention, torture, rape and looting. In one incident reported in November 2002, 30 villagers were said to have died during an attack by a helicopter gunship. In the same month, a 16-year-old girl was allegedly gang-raped by 14 soldiers. Although the report cited abuses by both the Angolan security forces and FLEC, the overwhelming number of accusations were made against the FAA.
By the end of February 2003, General Armando da Cruz Neto, the FAA chief of staff, confidently announced: “We are in a position to state that there have been significant changes in Cabinda’s military situation as a result of operations carried out by our armed forces. FLEC-Renovada has ceased to operate since late 2002. We could say that the operation launched to restore peace in Cabinda has reached a positive phase. The next phase entails the development of border control mechanisms, so as to prevent FLEC forces from regrouping and returning.”
On 8 June 2003, the Angola Press Agency reported that the FLEC-FAC chief of staff, Francisco Luemba, and six other high-ranking officers had surrendered to government authorities.
A recent visit to the Angolan capital, Luanda, by the founder of the main rebel group has been seen as evidence that peace may finally reach the troubled province. Although details surrounding the meeting of Ranque Franque, leader of the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC), with Angolan authorities in July 2003 remained vague, some observers saw it as the latest attempt by the government to move towards a negotiated settlement with separatists, who have battled the central government and each other since Angola achieved independence in 1975.
FAA personnel were responsible for torture and other forms of cruel and degrading treatment, including rape, in Cabinda during the year. The Human Rights Report of Cabinda, published by the Cabinda civic association Mpalabanda, reported 50 cases of torture or cruel and degrading treatment during the year. Police were frequently accused of using torture and coerced confessions during investigations and often beat and released suspects in lieu of trials. Persons suspected of ties to FLEC were allegedly subjected to brutal forms of interrogation. During the year, a visit by the U.N. Special Representative for Human Rights Defenders, Hina Jilani, and a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) brought further attention to the problems in Cabinda. The large number of FAA troops deployed within the Cabindan population was identified as a major contributor to the human rights abuses.
In August 2006, FLEC signed a ceasefire and general amnesty agreement with the government. Fighting persisted, however, as some Cabindans regard the ceasefire as a mockery. The Angolan military, in September 2006, admitted that fighting continues in Cabind and blamed “certain armed groups.” In response to increased fighting, FLEC appealed to the African Union’s Commission on Human Rights for an intervention.
Source: World Security
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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 2 Aug 2010.
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