December 1, 2009 / 4:25 PM / 8 years ago

INTERVIEW-Angola minister says Cabinda separatist group dead

* More than half of Angola's oil comes from Cabinda

* Ministers says govt working to improve lives of Cabindans



By Henrique Almeida

LUANDA, Dec 1 (Reuters) - An Angolan minister said on Tuesday a separatist group that has waged war for control of the country's oil-producing province for more than 30 years no longer existed.

Antonio Bento Bembe, a former fighter with the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC) who is now a minister without portfolio, said all that remained of the group was a few individuals who tried to attract unhappy Cabindans to their cause with false statements.

The end of FLEC would help increase the flow of foreign investment into Angola's oil sector.

More than half the country's oil comes from wells offshore of Cabinda, a small enclave in the north of the African country and separated from it by a strip of land belonging to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

"FLEC no longer exists," Bento Bembe said in an interview with Reuters.

"What you have is some individuals who issue war statements. They try to push the people to take up arms, sinking them into trouble. But who will point a shotgun at a whole army?"

Angola has succeeded in protecting oil companies such as Chevron (CVX.N) in Cabinda by concentrating a significant amount of troops in the small territory -- branded the "Kuwait of Africa" because of its oil wealth.



DEEP ROOTS

The roots of the conflict are deep but one of the main grievances FLEC has is that Cabindans see few benefits from the oil produced from their land.

In 2006, the Angolan government and some FLEC representatives signed a peace deal on the basis that more oil money would stay in the province. The government now reinvests 10 percent of Cabinda's oil taxes in the province.

The agreement was signed by Bento Bembe, who was FLEC's secretary general at the time, but was immediately rejected by the group's President N'Zita Tiago, who is based in Paris and says he still leads FLEC's war against the government.

Bento Bembe said life was still difficult for most of the estimated 300,000 Cabindans and their countrymen, but said that was no excuse to wage war against the government.

Angola rivals Nigeria as Africa's biggest oil producer but an estimated two-thirds of the population lives on less than $2 a day, according to the World Bank.

"A lot of things have been changing without a need to pick up a knife or a gun," he said.

In a statement last month, FLEC said it had kidnapped a Chinese oil worker. In a previous statement it also said it had killed several members of Angola's armed forces.

Bento Bembe said such statements were false.

"They come from people who are frustrated because they could not realise their dreams" he said.

"They said they killed seven members of the armed forces. It's a lie. Another statement spoke of an attack, it's not true. Recently they said they kidnapped Chinese people. It's false." (Reporting by Henrique Almeida; editing by Andrew Dobbie) ((Reuters messaging: henrique.almeida.reuters.com@reuters.net; email: henrique.almeida@reuters.com; tel 244 912 304 020)) (For more Africa cover visit: af.reuters.com -- To comment on this story email: SouthAfrica.Newsroom@reuters.com)

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