CABINDA, Angola (AP) — An Angolan human rights lawyer said Tuesday that police are rounding up peaceful activists and accusing them of responsibility in a deadly attack on the Togo national soccer team’s bus as it headed to the African Cup of Nations tournament.
Martinho Nombo said the five people arrested over the last week were not related to the separatist group that has claimed responsibility for the Jan. 8 attack that killed three people and wounded eight. Authorities already had arrested two members of the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC).
“But the five others that have been arrested have nothing to do with FLEC,” Nombo told The Associated Press. “They are just intellectuals that are expressing opinions the government doesn’t share. And as soon as somebody criticizes the government, he is tagged as a FLEC member.”
Cabindan prosecutor Antonio Nito was not available for comment on Tuesday. The government of the southern African country has denied previous charges from international human rights groups that its military has committed atrocities in Cabinda. The restive, oil-rich outpost shares no borders with the Angolan mainland.
Nombo said that one of the men arrested, economics professor Belchior Tati, has asked Nombo to be his lawyer but that police have refused access to Tati in jail.
Nombo’s concerns were echoed in a Tuesday statement from London-based rights group Amnesty International.
“Amnesty International calls on the government to ensure that this deplorable incident is not used as an excuse to violate the rights of citizens in Cabinda through arbitrary arrests and detentions or any form of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment,” said Erwin Van Der Borght, Amnesty’s Africa Director.
Nombo said he fears he may be the next to be arrested, but said he was undeterred by the threat.
“I’m a free man. They can deny me my right to be a proper citizen, they will never stop me expressing ideas,” he said.
Cabinda’s armed groups have been weakened by factional fighting. But periodic announcements from the Angolan government that the Cabinda uprising has been quelled — either by force or negotiations — have been followed by new outbreaks of violence.
Nombo said many in Cabinda seek more autonomy from the Angolan mainland. The small coastal enclave is north of Angola, wedged between Congo and the much smaller neighboring nation, Republic of Congo.
Cabinda is Angola’s main oil-producing region, and Angola is one of Africa’s top oil producers. But the people of Cabinda remain poor despite the oil revenues, and human rights groups have repeatedly accused the government of hiding oil money, making it impossible to trace.
Angola has been struggling to climb back from decades of violence, and its government was banking on the tournament as a chance to show the world it was on the way to recovery. Cabinda’s unrest is unrelated to — and often overshadowed by — a broader civil war that lasted nearly three decades and ended in 2002.