Angolan Opposition Says Authorities Killed 1,080 of Church Sect

Angolan authorities killed more than a thousand members of a religious group and won’t let investigators enter a restricted area where bodies were burned, according to the main opposition party.

The National Union for the Total Independence of Angola updated its estimated death toll to 1,080 people from 700 last week after speaking with survivors and police officers involved in helicopter attacks on villages about 390 miles (630 kilometers) southeast of Luanda, the capital, lawmaker Adalberto Costa Junior said in an interview on Tuesday.

“The number we have provided is an estimate based on testimony from some of those who were directly involved in the killings of that sect’s members,” Junior said by phone in Luanda. “They’re speaking discretely and it’s incredible anyone is speaking at all.”

Angolan authorities accused the sect, known as The Light of the World, of killing nine policemen on April 16 as they tried to arrest leader Jose Julino Kalupeteka. Police said they killed 13 of his bodyguards during the operation and have remained silent on Unita’s accusations that hundreds more died near Caala in Huambo province.

National police spokesman Aristophane do Santos didn’t answer calls or respond to text messages on Tuesday seeking comment. Mario Jorge, a media assistant to President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, declined to comment. “All issues pertaining to The Light of the World sect should be addressed to the national police,” Jorge said by phone on Monday. “They are the ones who are dealing with this.”

Overturned Vehicle

Six calls seeking comment on Tuesday from Helio Aragao, information secretary in Luanda for the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, didn’t connect.

Unita alleges three policemen died in an initial confrontation with the sect and six more were killed when their vehicle overturned on the way to get reinforcements.

Junior said people interviewed by Unita investigators said that the police ordered bodies to be burned. A Unita delegation wasn’t allowed to enter an area sealed off by authorities or travel with Huambo’s provincial governor to the zone, he said.

“They are clearly trying to hide the truth,” Junior said. “That area where the killings took place was transformed into a military base. As an Angolan I can’t believe this is happening.”

Church Criticism

Kalupeteka, who was arrested April 17, was driven out of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in 2001, according to Unita. He urged members to sell their belongings and move from their villages to mountains and forests because of their belief the world will end this year, Dos Santos said on April 20.

Bishop Manuel Inocencio de Sousa, president of the Holy Spirit Union of Angolan Churches, called Kalupeteka a vandal without theological training and criticized him for allowing his followers to resist police and resort to violence, state-run news agency Angop reported on Monday.

Angola, a nation of 24 million people in a former Portuguese colony, is mostly Catholic. The government abandoned communism for the most part after the end of the Cold War.

Dos Santos’s MPLA defeated Unita in 2002 after a 27-year civil war. The first postwar national election in sub-Saharan Africa’s third-largest economy was held in 2012. Dos Santos has ruled Angola since 1979, four years after it gained independence.

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