Antigovernment rebels in Angola said today that they had seized 22 foreign hostages, including two American crewmen of a U.S. transport aircraft, in an attack on a remote diamond-mining complex close to the border with Zaire.
The National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) said in a statement issued in Lisbon that 130 government troops were killed and 15 captured during a two-hour battle Saturday at the Kafunfo mines, 220 miles east-northeast of the capital, Luanda.
Three British technicians and 17 Filipinos were captured together with the Americans and were being led to safe rebel bases about 800 miles to the south, the guerrillas claimed. Contacted by telephone in Luanda, British Ambassador Marrack Goulding confirmed the reports of a raid.
The alleged capture of the two TransAmerica crewmen is almost certain to be exploited as a major propaganda coup by the rebels. However, their nine-year guerrilla war to topple the Soviet-backed Angolan government has won sympathy from political leaders in the Reagan administration.
TransAmerica has been contracted by the Angolan authorities to fly supply runs from the capital to Kafunfo in the remote northeastern province of Lunda Norte.
During the fighting, a Hercules transport aircraft belonging to the Oakland-based TransAmerica Airline was forced to land after being seriously damaged by guerrilla fire, the statement said.
A spokesman for the airline, reached by telephone, said that one of the company's L100-30 Hercules cargo aircraft that was flying fish flour and cooking oil to the mine's base camp from Luanda "was destroyed by fire" but that the aircraft was on the ground when it was hit.
He said that four crewmen "were all off the aircraft and unharmed prior to the fire." He confirmed that two crewmen were captured but said the whereabouts of the other two were unknown.
The spokesman said the the pilot, Gerhart Opel, and the flight engineer, Alan Bongard, apparently were the two Americans captured. The other two crewmen are William Reed, the first officer, and Paul Huggins, a British citizen, who was the plane's cargo supervisor.
In a statement, signed by rebel chief Jonas Savimbi, UNITA said it shot down the Hercules in heavy fighting as the insurgents came under attack from the air from three government MiG21 fighter aircraft and four Mi24 helicopters.
Government defenses at the mines had been reinforced since the rebels captured 77 foreign hostages, including 16 Britons and 15 Filipinos, and seized an undisclosed quantity of rough diamonds, in a similar raid Feb. 23. The captives were released in good health seven weeks later after being marched and driven in trucks hundreds of miles south to UNITA's headquarters at Jamba.
The UNITA statement said the Filipinos and Britons captured Saturday were working to put the mines back in operation.
Goulding said he could not confirm the number or nationality of the captives but said no more than six Britons were in Kafunfo at the time of the raid. He said they were all technicians employed by Diamang, the Angolan state diamond company, or corporations contracted by the government.
The United States has no diplomatic relations with Angola.
In the statement released today, UNITA strongly attacked the involvement of multinational companies in assisting the Angolan government, specifically naming Gulf Oil, Texaco, ELF-Aquitaine of France and Petrobras of Brazil. UNITA repeated earlier warnings to foreign governments not to allow their citizens to work in Angola. It said that they would be risking their lives and that most of the country had been declared a war zone.