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Angolans describe human rights abuse during civil war

By Edward GirardetSpecial correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / June 3, 1983



Near Baixo Longa, Angola

Tales of human rights abuse at the hands of the Angolan government are numerous and vivid in the rebel-held bush areas of Angola. This reporter, traveling for seven weeks in rebel-held territories, has heard both men and women describe how they were arrested on charges of being rebel sympathizers. They say they were beaten, imprisoned without trial, and psychologically intimidated. There are also allegations of far more vicious assaults and killings.

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Amnesty International, the London-based human rights organization, has accused the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) of widespread rights violations - ranging from arbitrary arrests and detention to torture and executions.

Amnesty (AI) and other international human rights organizations are not able to cite precise numbers of political prisoners held by the MPLA regime. But they say the figure runs into the thousands.

In the past, AI also has charged the rebel National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) with rights violations. In August 1980, for example, AI said it received reliable reports that the rebel movement reportedly executed a number of government prisoners. AI said they had been sentenced to death by a resistance tribunal in retaliation for executions of UNITA sympathizers. There have also been reports of UNITA forces killing captured Cuban and government officers.

The MPLA government and UNITA regularly accuse each other of committing atrocities against the civilian population. The US State Department's latest report on human rights worldwide says hundreds of civilians were killed in 1982 in the civil war, and that there are unsubstantiated reports of indiscriminate killing of civilians by both the government and UNITA. The US report also notes there are unconfirmed reports that UNITA practices urban terrorism in MPLA-controlled areas.

A government-run detention center at Tari in Cuanza South Province is identified in the Amnesty report as one of the main rural detention centers. This reporter talked at length with eight former Tari prisoners. They were among a group of about 60 who traveled for two months through dense, bug-ridden bush to reach this rebel base near Baixo Longa after UNITA forces ''liberated'' the detention center in a raid Jan. 30.

According to these individuals, most of the camp inmates - black Angolans as well as six Portuguese settlers and technicians, a Brazilian, and a Zairian - were held on charges of ''economic sabotage'' or ''bourgeois attitudes.'' These are the terms typically used by Angolan authorities to classify alleged antigovernment activists or political undesirables.

Two of the black Angolan internees interviewed were Juan Francisco Cotingu and his wife, Marguerida, who are from the western Angolan town of Huambo. Mr. Cotingu, a bus driver by profession, said he was arrested on April 23, 1980, and accused of being a UNITA sympathizer.

He related that he was carted off to jail and interrogated by the state security police. The security police is known here colloquially as the DISA (Direccao de Informacao Seguranca de Angola), even though that was officially dropped as the organization's name in 1979 after allegations of widespread corruption were leveled against it.

''They beat me with their fists and rifle butts,'' Mr. Cotingu said. During the interrogations, Cuban advisers working with the DISA would often intervene in the interrogation with questions, he said. Occasionally he came across uniformed and civilian-clothed East Germans in the corridors as well.

Asked how he was able to identify the foreigners, he said: ''One often sees Cubans, Soviets, and East Germans around Huambo. One learns to recognize them by the way they dress and speak. The Soviets and East Germans speak very poor Portuguese, if at all; the Cubans, a mixture of Portuguese and Spanish.''