Eight months after the government and rebels signed a peace treaty that was to end 20 years of civil war, open fighting has broken out again.
Army troops have clashed with UNITA rebels since Wednesday in a diamond-rich province in northern Angola, the regional army commander, Brig. Joaquim Raul, said Saturday.
Raul said the rebels have been attacking army troops for the past two months, and have killed 167 soldiers in the province of Lunda Norte, near the border with Zaire, some 510 miles east of Luanda.
Although both government soldiers and UNITA rebels are confined to camps under the terms of a November peace treaty, the government has moved thousands of soldiers into the area to halt rampant diamond smuggling.
The government had given smugglers until last Thursday to abandon the area.
The army detained more than 500 suspected smugglers last week, most of them believed to be working with Jonas Savimbi’s UNITA the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola.
Since the breakdown of a 1991 peace treaty, Savimbi has smuggled diamonds to pay for weapons, ammunition, food and fuel. The army’s capture last year of many rebel-held diamond fields is believed to be a big reason that UNITA agreed to the November treaty.
A U.N. peacekeeping operation is supposed to separate the two sides and disarm the rebel troops, but fewer than half of the 7,460 soldiers have arrived and the operation is six months behind schedule.