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Renewed fighting forces thousands of Angolans to flee to Zambia: UNHCR

Renewed fighting forces thousands of Angolans to flee to Zambia: UNHCR

With the rainy season approaching, renewed fighting in eastern Angola has sent thousands of Angolans fleeing into Zambia, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said today.

UNHCR is organizing urgent assistance for groups of Angolan refugees who were making their way to Zambia's Western Province, agency spokesman Ron Redmond told journalists at a news briefing in Geneva. "There have been at least 3,500 new arrivals in the past five days - well above the average of 1,000 per month," he said. "The increase has raised fears of a sustained influx as fighting rages in and around Angolan towns on the other side of the border. Some of the towns are reported to have changed hands."

Zambian border authorities first alerted UNHCR's sub-office in Mongu, Western Province, last weekend, reporting groups of refugees crossing the border, Mr. Redmond said.

In the village of Mambolomoka, a group of about 1,000 people had arrived, "many of them in deplorable condition," the spokesman said. The UNHCR team estimated that 60 per cent of them were children suffering severe malnutrition. Other groups of several hundred people were also found in the border town of Lilondo as well as in areas south of Shangombo and in Shangombo itself.

The newly arrived refugees said they were fleeing government offensives in the area. "UNHCR believes more refugees are on the way, making the difficult, dangerous and sometimes circuitous journey to the Zambian border," Mr. Redmond said. "Fighting in Angola has traditionally flared up in the last months of the year, when the warring parties try to consolidate positions before the onset of the rainy season."

Zambia is hosting over 200,000 Angolan refugees, including some who have been there for over 30 years, according to UNHCR.