Celeste Cango Antunes was the first prisoner led into the camp. She was blindfolded and seemingly composed, the only sign of her recent ordeal the drops of dried blood on the front of her green-striped yello pullover.
A young boy whipped off the towel wrapped around her eyes, she blinked and looked slowly around at the jeering, bearded faces of the guerillas. Fear gradually replaced her bewildered look, her legs began to quiver, and urine trickled down to her ankles and into her dirty white sneakers. The guerillas laughed harder.
"Viva, UNITA." she said weakly, raising the partly clenched fist of her left hand.
"THE RIGHT ARM, THE RIGHT ARM." the guerillas howled.
She quickly raised her right arm, dropped her left, and made another whispered effort at the guerillas' chant.
"No, very bad," the guerillas shouted. "Very weak!"
Celeste Antunes, 19, stopped her feeble effort at appeasing her captors and began to stroke the scab on her swollen left cheek where a guerilla's rifle but struck her the morning before, knocking her to the ground.
Celeste Antunes and two government soldiers had been captured Jan. 27, when the UNITA forces attacked the Angolan government's garrison at Andulo, a day's march west of one heir fores bases.
I interviewed 10 UNITA prisoners at different times from December to March and at different locations during a 2,100-mile hike 1 made with the guerrillas through their forest strong-holds in five Angolan provinces. The entire trip lasted from Oct. 4, 1976, to May 22, 1977.
All of the prisoners were interviewed through UNITA interpreters in Portuguese. I was able to follow the drift through my rudimentary understanding of the language. Their words were then translated into English for me.
Five of the prisoners were Popular Movement soldiers, one was a government militiaman, one was a former UNITA guerrilla and admitted informer for the government's secret police, and the remaining three were civilians.
I chose at random all of the prisoners to interview from groups ranging from two to 37. I interviewed three of the prisoners. Celeste Antunes and two soldiers, immediately after their capture.
All 10 prisoners obviously wanted to ingratiate themselves with the UNITA guerrillas, and most were intimidated. All were hesitant when asked particular details of life under the Popular Movement government, and only one admitted that she had actively supported the government.
But from hours-long interviews with each, at different times and at places separated by hundreds of miles, a picture emerged of a newly independent government caught in the chaos of a debilitating civil war.
Officially called the People's Republic of Angola, the Communist government, headquartered in Luanda, enjoys the support of a majority of the nation's urban intellectuals - middle-class Angolan blacks and mesticos (mulattoes) as well as of the few educated Portuguese who remained after most of the half-million colonial settlers left.
The prisoners said the Popular Movement government is aggresively seeking the support all Angolans and has a strong following among the Kimbundu people, who make up 25 per cent of the country's population of more than 5 million.
The UNITA guerrillas, the prisoners said, have effectively impaired road and rail transportation: since their bases are in central Angola's grain-growing region, this is causing desperation food shortages in all towns and cities, including Luanda.
Almost daily last fall I would listen to the government's call over Luanda radio for "voluntarios" to work without pay in harvesting the country's coffee crop, 20 per cent of which was finally exported, according to Western sources.
The government has formed a secret police, recruiting many of the African informers who work for the Portuguese secret police network during Angola's colonial era.
A large number of Popular Movement soldiers have been impressed into military service, are ill-trained and undisciplined; this has resulted in their abusing urban civilians, the prisoners claimed. Periodically over Luanda radio the government would announce the imprisonment and execution of small numbers of soldiers and policemen for stealing, rape or murder.
At the end of May, an African nationalist faction within the Popular Movement government tried to overthrow Angola's president, Angostinho Neto, and were put down, reportedly with the aid of Cuban forces. The bases of the coup attempt were openly expressed anti-Portuguese and anti-mestico sentiments. directed at the large role these two minority groups play in running the Angolan government, and desires for a closer alignment with the Soviet Union.
"It is good to have this type of confusion," said UNITA leader Jonas Mahleiro Savimbi. "The more confusion, the better it is for us. I like confusion. Lots of it."
In the early stages of the civil war, in 1975, the UNITA guerrillas catured 12 Cuban soldiers and army officers and an uncounted number of Popular Movement troops and commanders. All of them were executed last year during a massive seven month offensive against the guerrillas by the combined Cuban and Popular Movement forces.
"All of the prisoners were shot by the time the second bomb fell," said Lt. Col. Waldemar Pires Chindondo, UNITA's chief of staff. "When our bases are attacked, we move. We don't take prisoners with us."
While I was there the UNITA guerrillas captured more Popular Movement soldiers and officers, but executed all of the officers.
he Cuban soldiers quit their rural garrisons at the end of the offensive in November, and were not engaged in battles with the guerrillas.
"From now on," said Savimbi in March," all Cubans, all Popular Movement commanders and all Portuguese fighting with the government will be executed. We will take only Popular Movement soldiers as prisoners.
"We keep some of the soldiers for "reeducation," explained Capt. Jaka Jamba. "They have not been indoctrinated into the Marxist line of the government The commanders are hardline Marxists. There is nothing else to do but to kill them."
Civilians who survive a succesful UNITA attack on one of the rural towns of southern Angola are also taken as prisoners. "The peasants who support the government are not Marxists, not socialist, not anything political," said Lt. Col. Sabino Sandele, who commando the UNITA region near Andulo.
"They have been bought by the government with blankets and salt," Sandele claimed, or forced into the army." It was Sandele's guerrillas who attacked Andulo at the end of January and captured Celeste Antunes and two government soldiers.
The day of guerrillas left Sandele's base for the attack. I was bedridden with a high fever and could not go. At 5:10 a.m. Jan. 27, however, I was starled awake by the noise of explosions and small-arms fire. I was also drenched in perspiration. The fever had broken.
"It only took them 20 minutes to overrun the town," Sandele said later after messengers arrived back at the base that night. He gleefully continued to count off the grim statistics the messengers gave him.
"We counted 97 dead" soldiers and civilians. "Three hundred civilians ran away the town. We killed a Cuban journalist when he was running to his car. He was the only Cuban in the town."
Sandele claimed there was a battalion - about 500 men - of Popular Movement soldiers at Andulo, but he refused to say how many guerrillas he sent on the attack. I counted 1,110 guerrillas who returned to the base in small groups the following day. The guerrillas said two of their men wre killed and buried outside of the town. Three wounded guerrillas were carried back to the base in blanket litters.
Of three prisoners the guerrillas said they captured, only two, civilian Celesta Antunes and soldier, Fernando Stavao, were brought back to the base. "The other soldier tried to escape on the march back here," said Sandele, " was recaptured and excuted."
Celeste Antunes said she was born, grew up, finished the third grade of elementary school and was married to her childhood sweetheart in Mussende; a town northeast in Andulo. She and her husband were married last December, she said.
Popular Movement soldiers "came to our town in January and took us and three of my brothers to Andulo," she said. "They were forced to join the army. They were given training but no weapons."
She, her husband and a girl were put in a small house near the town's church, she said. "There was no food," Antunes continued. "Weused to eat badly prepared rice, a small plate for each of us, twice a day. Nothing else."
"They used to tell us that "Those people fighting in the bush are your relatives and we can't die here alone," said Antunes, an Ovimbundu - the same tribe as UNITA's leader, Savimbi.
On the day of the attack, she said, she and her husband had been in Andulo for two weeks. "When the attack began my husband ran away and left me. I ran out of the house toward the UNITA men and shouted. 'Brothers, don't shoot me' with my hands up," she said. One of the guerrillas ran at her and knocked her down with his rifle butt.
Fernando Stavao, 28, was brought blindfolded into Sandele's camp in his tattered Popular Movement uniform a few minutes behind Antunes.
Government soldiers came to his village, Chivavulu, in the beginning of January, Stavao said, and ordered all of its approximately 75 inhabitants to go with them to a meeting in Andulo.
"At the meeting they told the [village] elders. 'We want your children in the army because we are dying too much,'" Stavao said. "They said, 'The number of our troops is going down.'"
Stavao and two other men from his village were selected from the crowd by the government soldiers and the rest of villagers, including his wife and two sons, were sent home.
"We were put in prison for two weeks," he said. "They were always telling us. "Why didn't you come before? You can stay here, be in the army and fight the bandits in the bush."
A week before the attack, he said, he was released fromprison and given an American M-1 carbine that had been captured from the UNITA guerrillas.
"When the attack began, I hid in some grass and threw down my rifle," Stavao said. "Then I gave myself up while saying. 'Don't kill me! I was once a UNITA [supporter], but I was forced to be here.
The scarcity of food is not limited to the government-controlled towns and cities, a point that was made by a feisty 22-year-old widow whose husband was killed by the UNITA guerrillas, Maravilha Mbaka.
When I met Mbaka, she had been a prisoner in a guerrilla camp in an isolated area of Bie Province for six months with her two yong daughters - Elsa Maria, 5 1/2 and Augusta Luzia, 2 1/2 and 34 other female prisoners.
Her husband, she said, was a clerk on the Benguela railroad, and they were on a train to Chicala when they were attacked Aug. 4.
"The train had passed through Cangombe at about 5 p.m.," she said, "when we were surprised by the explosions." Her husband pushed her and their two daughters onto the floor and lay on top of them, she added.
"During the fighting, he was wounded and bleeding badly," Mlaba continued. The guerrillas "left him there when they made everyone leave the train and go into the forest. I know he died."
Mbaka said that for the first few days in the forest she was afraid, but has since adjusted and enjoys the company of the other women.
"My most important problem here is food," said Mbaka, turning to glare at the interpreter, Maj. Eugenio Ngolo.
"Every day I go to the stock and some days there is no food. That is a problem of my children."
The usually unflappable Ngolo, who was in charge of the base, swallowed hard, turned toward me and defensively answered the unasked question.
"There has been a food problem in this area since the offensive," he said. "The offensice disrupted to planting."
"And both my girls suffer from boruthas," interrupted Mbaka as he pointed to the open sores covering their arms and legs. "I am afraid for them, but what can I do? There is no medicine. I pray every day for strength and help from God."
Abel Ngere, 23, and Luciano Sangungo, 18, were two Popular Movement soldiers who joined the army "because we had nothing else to do," Ngere, the elder said.
It was the second day of their captivity when I met the two men. Both were being kept, tied hand and foot with coarse handmade hemp ropes, in and abandoned roadside Portuguese shop. The cement-walled store was the only sturdy structure in a small village 13 mile south of Nova Sintra, a Benguela railroad town. Their faces were swollen and bruised from beatings.
Ngere and Sangungo said they were from southern Angola and were sent to Luanda in September 1975 - shortly after civil was began - for military training. "We had a difficult time there," Ngere said. "There was little food."
They were returned south to Nova Sintra in December as part of an escort guarding the new Angolan currency, called kwanzas, which were exchanged for the old Portuguese excudo bills in early January.
"At first we were happy because we thought there would be more food here, but there wasn't ," Ngere added.
The two prisoners said their officers ordered them to put on civilian clothes and go with 50-odd other Popular Movement soldiers to "steal" food from the peasants outside Nova Sintra.
"We stole some cattle and were returning to the town when we were ambushed by the UNITA people," Sangungo said. "Some of the soldiers died. We left the cattle and ran into the bush and threw away our guns. Some peasants saw us and told the UNITA people and we were captured near here."
Both men had been sittin up on their knees with their hands loosened an armed guerrilla standing directly behind them, during the two-hour interview. UNITA guerrilla Capt. Joaquim Kangaushi, who had escorted me to the makeshift jail from a nearby civilian rally, leaned forward and looked both men in the eyes.
"I will keep you to see if you can be reeducated." said Kangaushi in a low, dry voice. Then slowly, enunciating each word purposefully, added: "If I do not think I can trust you or I feel you are too stupid to learn, then I will personally shoot each of you in the head."
Ngere and Sangungo eagerly applauded Kanguashi's words with loud claps and thanked him for the opportunity to be "reeducted." They assured him they would be eager students.
As Kangaushi and I walked the three miles back to the rally through a drizzling rain, he protested at my cynical disbelief in "reeducation," which I had expressed with an appropriate Portuguese profantly.
"No, no it works," he said. "I'll let them sit in jail for a month or two. Let them think a little." Then Kangaushi said he would give them lessons in Angolan history: How, why and when Portuguese came; Angolan resistance to Portuguese rule.
"They've never heard this before," he said. "The Portuguese never taught it."
From that point, he said, he will review with them what they saw in Luanda - Portuguese civil administrators. Cuban soldiers and Soviet advisers, all supporting the Popular Movement government. A new imperialism.
"So what, if it is one-sided?" he continued. "I'm on one side. When I'm finished they'll have gotten information they never heard before, never thought of and I'll have two new warriors."
Jose de Silva drove his van from his town in Huambo, six miles east to the small town of Santo Amaro, on the morning of Feb. 18, he said. It was his normal daily round-trip run to pick up charcoal and take it back to Huambo to sell.
"The first thing I saw were the people bringing the bags of charcoal to my van when I stopped" at his usual spot in the town's center. Silva said. "Then I saw the UNITA soldiers surrounding me and then I was arrested." Silva was a member of the government's militia forces. Organizacao de Defesa Popular.
Three days later, his wife, Victoria Nachinlunlu, left their two children at their home in the Sao Joao shanty-town outskirts of Huambo, and with Silva's brother came to look for him in Santo Amaro.
"I went to the usual place, where my husband picked up charcoal, and was arrested also," said Nachinlunlu, who like most married Angolan women keeps her own surname.
Silva, his wife and brother were all reunited inside a prison at a UNITA guerrilla base 18 miles south of Huambo. From there, along with four othe prisoners, they were marched about a hundred miles.southeast to a jail at one of guerrilla leader. Savimbis base, where they arrived on March 5.
During an interviews March 6 with the couple. Silva said he had joined the government's militia not to protect the city against attacks by the guerrillas, but to protect himself from Popular Movement soldier who was after his wife and had threatened to kill him.
"I was afraid," Silva said. "So they gave me a rifle, a bolt action Mauser. All we did was patrol at night around the city, and they took the guns back during the day," Silva said. "I didn't care much for the government."
Silva's wife Nachinlunlu, said she had actively supported the government and was a member of the Popular Movement's Organization of Angolan Women.
"Ijoined because they offered us education courses and instructions on how to sew," she said, "we learned to code and sew, and I was doing the fourth class of primary school."
The couple had been captured by the UNITA guerrillas because they were members of organizations of the Popular Movement government. They and the other prisoners taken from Huambo and Santo Amaro would be kept, the guerrillas said, until they had been "reeducated".
On March 27, Paul Antonio, 27, was relaxing in the early morning in Mbunjei, in southern Huambo Province. Half of the garrison's 140 Popular Movement soldiers were out scouring the countryside looking for the UNITA guerrillas's congress. The other half were in line for breakfast.
Suddenly, said Antonio, he heard a lot of running footsteps, but no shooting. His commanding officer ran by him shouting, "Run, Kayumbuka [the area's UNITA commander] is coming," he said added.
"Twenty-five of us were killed." Antonion said. "Three tried to give themselves up, but one was killed and the other two ran. The guerrillas shot me while I was raising my right hand with the extended forefinger in the UNITA sign" to give himself up, he said.
The next morning while being interviewed, Antonio shifted his position in the chair as an indignant scowl flickered over his face.
"They could have at least waited to see I wasn't trying to shoot anyone."
Antonio had been lucky: The bullet ha d entered his left shoulder and gone out the back without hitting a bone. "It's just sore now and still bleeds a little," Antonio said of the day-old wound.
"You know we were ready to surrender and join UNITA," Antonio continued. "No, it wasn't because we had fond problems. Our food [convoy] came from Lunbango [in Huila Province, west of Mbunjei] and was never ambushed by the UNITA guerrillas."
"The soldiers didn't like the commander because he was weak, and they were angry about being given new Portuguese uniforms and boots." Antonio added.
"We wanted to join UNITA in the bush, but there was no way to contact them or come over to them. All the soldiers were afraid they'd be killed."
NEXT : The Peasants.