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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Rebel: Russian Speakers Help UNITA

CATUMBELA AIR BASE, Angola -- A rebel officer captured by government troops said Russian-speaking white mercenaries are operating sophisticated weaponry, apparently purchased from Bulgaria, for the rebel forces in Angola's renewed civil war.

Colonel Boaventura Vito Tchingundo told reporters late Thursday that the arms, including tanks, long-range artillery and SAM anti-aircraft missiles, were flown into rebel-held areas of the country in breach of the 1994 United Nations-brokered peace pact which unraveled last month.

"All I know is that the weapons came from a European country and passed through an African country, but I don't know which. Bulgaria was written on the boxes," Tchingundo said.

He said the weaponry was being operated by Russian-speaking white mercenaries but did not state how many there were or which countries they were from. The Angolan government says mercenaries from Ukraine are helping UNITA.

Tchingundo said the armament was concealed in tall elephant grass whenever UN officials monitoring the peace process visited areas controlled by the UNITA rebels.

The government flew reporters to this air base, 300 kilometers south of Luanda, to meet Tchingundo who said he was captured Dec. 22.

Tchingundo, 39, said he was a UNITA intelligence officer. He spoke confidently and fluently when answering reporters' questions and was not corrected at any time by the government army officers sitting next to him. He said he had been treated well since his capture.

His comments corroborated government claims that UNITA kept a hidden army and rearmed in recent years in contravention of the peace accord which was aimed at ending a two-decade civil war between the sides.

However, a senior rebel official rejected the news conference as "a mere propaganda exercise."

UNITA Secretary-General Paulo Lukamba Gato, contacted by telephone, confirmed Tchingundo was a UNITA officer but declined to comment on his claims.

"A prisoner says what his captors tell him to say," Gato said.

Tchingundo said UNITA began rearming in early 1997. He said he was not aware of any soldiers from Rwanda or Uganda fighting on the UNITA side, as claimed by the government.

He said he knew that at least 6,000 rebel troops had been trained secretly in UNITA areas, mostly in the rural southeast of the country.

Once the fighting restarted, rebel forces were sent to all areas of the country, according to Tchingundo.