There have been a series of conflicting reports about the Antonov 26 which crashed in Monakimbundo, near Saurimo. First reports stated that 127 Angolan soldiers had died. This was later denied and the passengers and crew were all said to be Russian. This was also denied and reports yesterday stated that the occupants were not Russians, but Ukranians. This has been confirmed by the Russian Embassy in Luanda, capital of Angola. The nationality of the 40 passengers remains unknown because the plane crashed in a zone controlled by the anti-government forces of UNITA, fuelling speculation that the plane was shot down. Reports from Angola state that among the passengers were “various foreigners, working in the diamond mines of Lunda” (the diamond-rich province in which Saurimo is situated). Jackie Potgieter, a South African political analyst said to Reuters in Pretoria: “It would be within UNITA’s capacity to shoot down the plane. It would be in their interest. It would increase the number of operations and would force the Angolan government to concentrate forces in the area”. Indeed, Monakimbundo is one of UNITA’s strong-points, due to the fact that the movement finances its operations mainly from the diamonds which it takes from the Lunda region, now that the ivory trade in Angola has finished with the virtual extinction of the country’s elephants. UNITA has SAM 7 missiles and recently acquired the more sophisticated SAM 16 anti-aircraft weapon. The number 2 in the anti-government movement, Dr. Savimbi’s deputy and Secretary-General of UNITA, Luakamba Paulo “Gato” (the cat) recently warned that if the government did not negotiate a new treaty, UNITA would increase its activities. UNITA, however, denies these reports and issued a special communication over the internet saying that the movement was not involved. Only today or tomorrow should it be possible for investigators to enter the area and provide a reliable source of information.

Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey Lisbon

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