UNITA rebel leader Jonas Savimbi agreed to start U.N.-brokered peace talks with the government next week, U.N. officials announced Friday as violence flared throughout war-torn Angola.
The agreement came at the end of a sobering week for the government. Rebels defeated government troops in the key northern oil town of Soyo and threatened to overrun the oil-rich Cabinda area and diamond mines in the northeast.
The rebels have targeted Angola's oil and diamond industries, trying to cripple the government financially. Soyo is the base for foreign oil companies, including U.S.-based Texaco.
A U.N. official in Luanda, the Angolan capital, said Savimbi agreed to send representatives to the talks next week in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa. The official said plans to hold the talks Monday were changed because of difficulties in arranging security for rebels. A new date has not been set, said the official.
Meanwhile, Margaret Antsee, the U.N. special representative for Angola, flew to U.N. headquarters in New York on Friday, where she was to meet with Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali to discuss extending the U.N. mandate in Angola, which expires Jan. 31.
In Luanda, armed mobs attacked merchants believed to be from neighboring Zaire in several city markets on Friday, apparently in response to unconfirmed government reports that Zairian troops were fighting alongside the rebels in northern Angola. At least 10 people were killed in the attacks and many more were injured.
Also Friday, UNITA troops were reported to be gathering in Caxito, about 37 miles northeast of Luanda, and government troops were bracing for an attack, Angolan national radio said.
Government and rebel troops have been at war since Oct. 31, after Savimbi accused the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola of rigging multi-party elections that were meant to restore peace after 16 years of civil war.
U.N. monitors judged the elections generally free and fair.
Savimbi withdrew to the central city of Huambo, where he reassembled his rebel army and quickly seized control of more than half the country despite suffering a costly defeat in Luanda.
The government launched a counteroffensive Jan. 3 and defeated UNITA in Huambo and two coastal cities. But Savimbi warned that if fighting continued, he would leave the country "without petroleum, without a single diamond."
Fierce fighting has been reported in the past 10 days in Huambo, the headquarters of UNITA--the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola. UNITA radio said government aerial bombardment had killed at least 1,000 people.
UNITA fighters were also reportedly poised to attack Cabinda, capital of the oil-rich Cabinda enclave wedged between Congo and Zaire on the Atlantic coast. The southern African nation earns 90% of its foreign exchange from oil exports.