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Angola Angola as a Refuge
Sources: The Library of Congress Country Studies; CIA World Factbook
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    The MPLA-PT government, conscious of its own revolutionary and anticolonial origins and committed to the liberation of South African-occupied Namibia and of South Africa itself, provided both sanctuary and material support to SWAPO and the ANC. Although FAPLA never made a preemptive attack south of the Namibian border, Pretoria's forces repeatedly invaded or otherwise intervened militarily in Angola. South Africa's regional strategy was to ensure UNITA's success, contain and disrupt SWAPO, prevent the establishment of ANC bases in southern Angola, and halt Cuban and Soviet expansion southward. In addition to SWAPO and the ANC, a large contingent of Katangan gendarmes (remnants of the force that had invaded Zaire's Shaba Province in 1977 and 1978) enjoyed the protection of the Angolan government.

    SWAPO was headquartered in Luanda and directed camps primarily in southern Angola from which its militants could infiltrate into Namibia in small units. SWAPO's military wing, the People's Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN), had main command centers in Luanda and Lubango and training camps in Huíla, Benguela, and Cuanza Sul provinces. To avoid identification, infiltration, and attack by the SADF, most of its camps were mobile. SWAPO recruits were trained at Angolan and Cuban military facilities, from whence they were dispatched to SWAPO camps and formally organized into battalions of 400 to 800 troops each. PLAN's strength in 1988 was estimated at 9,000 troops, most of whom were engaged in operations in Angola against UNITA, rather than against the SADF in Namibia. It was uncertain whether PLAN's anti-UNITA operations represented a quid pro quo for Angolan sanctuary and material support or reflected limited chances to operate in Namibia because of South African defenses. In the Angolan government's 1986 offensive against UNITA, for example, it was estimated that 6,000 to 8,000 SWAPO guerrillas operated with FAPLA.

    In May 1978, South African forces made their first major crossborder raid into Angola, attacking SWAPO's main camp at Cassinga. Other major South African incursions against SWAPO bases and forces occurred in 1981 and 1983. These attacks and the many that followed, coupled with UNITA's territorial expansion, disrupted SWAPO and forced it to disperse and move northward. The Lusaka Accord of February 1984 provided for a cease-fire, South African withdrawal, and relocation of SWAPO under FAPLA control to monitored camps north of a neutral zone along the Namibian border. But Pretoria, alleging that SWAPO's redeployment was incomplete, delayed its own pullout until April 1985. In September 1985, however, South Africa launched another major air and ground attack on SWAPO and later claimed to have killed about 600 guerrillas in 1985 and 1986.

    The southern African peace negotiations in 1988 rekindled rumors of debate within the MPLA-PT about continued support for SWAPO. The regional accords required Angola to restrict PLAN to an area north of 16° south latitude, about 150 kilometers from the Namibian border. South Africa accused SWAPO of violating the agreement by remaining in the proscribed area and intensifying its operations from a military command headquarters at Xangongo. Accusations aside, SWAPO intended PLAN to form the nucleus of a future Namibian national army, into which it would integrate the existing territorial forces after a period of reorientation and rehabilitation.

    The ANC, banned in South Africa, operated mainly in Angola under the protection and control of Luanda. At least seven major training camps for an estimated 1,000 to 1,400 members of the ANC's military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (Zulu for "Spear of the Nation"), were in Angola. Most of the ANC's personnel, which were organized into three battalions, had their encampment at Viana, outside Luanda. This location in northern Angola provided security from South African attacks but restricted the ANC's ability to infiltrate or mount attacks on South Africa. Other major camps were also in the north at Caculama, Pango, and Quibaxe. ANC militants, like those of PLAN, were engaged along with FAPLA forces in fighting UNITA. Some ANC forces may have been integrated into FAPLA units. Such joint training and operations facilitated the ANC's access to weapons and supplies, which came mostly from the Soviet Union and its allies. Sanctuary in Angola became all the more important after the March 1984 Mozambique-South Africa nonaggression and mutual security pact, the Nkomati Accord, which obliged Maputo to control ANC activities. By 1988 a combination of internal and external pressures had considerably weakened the ANC, including assassinations of its leadership, South African infiltration and crackdowns at home, attacks on ANC cadres in Botswana, and the United States-brokered peace accords under which Luanda agreed to terminate its assistance to the ANC. As 1988 ended, the ANC decided to relocate its bases out of Angola; reportedly, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Nigeria, and Uganda had been mentioned as possible destinations.

    Finally, Angola was a refuge for some 1,400 Zairian dissidents. Although quiescent since 1978, these former Katangan gendarmes, who formed the National Front for the Liberation of the Congo (Front National pour la Libération du Congo--FNLC), remained Luanda's potential trump card if relations with Zaire became intolerable.

    Data as of February 1989

    NOTE: The information regarding Angola on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies and the CIA World Factbook. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Angola Angola as a Refuge information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Angola Angola as a Refuge should be addressed to the Library of Congress and the CIA.

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Revised 10-Nov-04
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