Angolan government forces, aided by Cuban troops, crushed a shortlived rebellion yesterday by supporters of a pro-Soviet faction. Two leaders of the faction were purged last week from the ruling party after they accused it of being anti-Soviet.
The rebellion marked the first armed revolt from within the ruling popular Movement Party since it defeated two Western-backed nationalist groups in the Angolan war and came to power with the help of Cuban troops and Soviet arms.
The defeat for American interests there in 1975 led to major shifts in U.S. policy toward Africa, strained Washington's relations with the Soviet Union and at least temporarily cooled a warming trend in Cuban-American relations.
The extent of the Cuban role in helping quash the revolt, which lasted less than eight hours, is not known, but Cuban accents were heard by listerners in an on-the-air scuffle as troops recaptured the Anglocan radio station from the rebels yesterday morning.
In a speech broadcast later in the day, Angolan President Agostinho Neto identified former interior administration minister Nito Alves and the former chief political commissar of the armed forces, Jose Van Dunen, as the leaders of the abortive rebellion.
Alves was relieved of his minister's post in October. Both men, who were members of the ruling popular Movement's central committee, were expelled from the party on Saturday and placed under arrest.
According to reports from the sea-side capital of Luanda, shooting and explosions began about 3 a.m. yesterday and continued for about four hours as some army units attempted to storm the radio station, army headquarters, the prison where Alves and Van Dunen were detained, and the presidential palace.
Although there were no official casualty figures, the Luanda-based correspondent of the Yugoslav news agency Tanjug reported fierce fighting in the streets. In his speech, President Neto said. "What has happened today is a terrible thing. There were men who died. There were men and women who were injured."
Unconfirmed reports reching Lisbon said that the rebels killed several officials during the fighting, including Helder Neto, a top state police official. He was a white Angolan not related to the president. Helder's job includes surveillances of Alve's faction.
Alves, who once was one of Neto's protoges, progressively moved away from Neto's more moderate position, at first behind the scenes and then more openly, since the country's independence in November, 1975.
In long-winded speeches to factory workers, Alves used to heap praise on the Soviet Union, but his involved, unclear ideology - a mumboz jumbo of socialist and Marxist phraseology and black racism - made even the Soviets and the Cubans apprehensive above him.
Alves attempted to create his own power base outside the party among the urban dwellers of Luanda and in the countryside northeast of Luanda, where he fought as a guerilla during the colonial was against Portugal.
In clandestinely printed leaflets, Alves' faction criticized Neto's governement for not being closer to the Soviet Union, for its continued dependence on Cuban military and political aid and for the continued presence of Angolan-born whites and mulattos in the government.
Neto recently accused Alves of leading a "black racist faction."
The Cubans, uneasy with Alves, have consistently supported Neto. They have also backed his pragmatic approach of keeping the door open to eventual Western ties and investment as an integral part of Angola's ronaligned foreign policy.
The rebels, whose number is not known, captured the radio station shortly after 8 a.m. and demand the realease of Alves and Van Dunen so they could "publicly answer the unfounded charges of being splittists."
The rebels also reportedly gained temporary control of Luand's international airport. An Angolan commercial airline flight to Lisbon was canceled.
While the radio was in the hands of the rebels, who called themselves an "action committee" of the Popular Movement, an announcer claimed that their "action was not an attempt at a coup but that its participants merely wanted to acquaint the government with some of their demands."
But a rebel speaker said that "the prisons in Luanda are waiting for corrupt ministers who have done nothing but exploit the people."
Some reports said that four ministers had been arrested by the rebels. They called for a mass meeting. But according to Tanjug, the demonstration did not materialize.
Tanjug reported that after the shooting had subsided the two sides seemed to be working out a compromise and that Alves apparently visited the radio station.
In his speech after the government had regained control, Neto said that the two dissident leaders would "have to carry out a great job of rehabilitation to be able to return to the ranks of the movement as leaders." But he also said the government would be forced to take "drastic steps" and that the perpetrators of the revolt would be punished with "utmost severity."
Only the night before the rebellion, Lucio Lara, the Popular Movement's general secretary, read a statement from the party's 10-man politburo accusing Alves and others of leading a secret committee within the party and of "developing extremely secret methods for taking over power."
Lara also said the faction leaders had accused the politburo - of which Alves had also been a member - of being Maoist and anti-Soviet and of trying to destroy the "permanent friendship" between the Popular Movement and the Soviet Communist Party.
Alves was fired from his minister's job shortly after Neto returned from a visit to Moscow last October, when the Popular Movement signed an unusual party-to-party agreement with the Soviet Communist Party as well as the traditional treaty of friendship and cooperation between the two governments.