Angolans in raid on Moscow embassy

August 18, 1995

The plight of 900 Angolan students, stranded in the former Soviet Union without means of support, is causing "extreme concern", according to the Russian foreign ministry.

The Angolan government has failed to pay their grants for several months, and the students have no means of support. One has already committed suicide.

Others, more militant, broke into the Angolan embassy in Moscow last month. They held three diplomats hostage, and, at gun and knife point, forced them to hand over all the money in the embassy - a total of $293,400 including $13,600 from a safe in the "scholarship department".

The raid ended in the students fighting among themselves for the loot. Four of the more successful ones ended up with enough money to return to Angola, but were arrested as they stepped off the aircraft.

The Angolans are typical of many African students who have come to the Commonwealth of Independent States under programmes set up by the Soviet Union but for which Russia and the other CIS governments can no longer pay. Now their home governments are expected to meet their maintenance costs.

Mostly African governments are now scaling down these programmes, but the CIS still represents a cheaper option than west European universities. But if the students' grants fail to arrive, they have nowhere to turn.

Until recently, the Angolan students could supplement their grants by taking vacation jobs in Portugal, but this is now impossible. Accordingly, at the end of last month, they appealed to the Portuguese embassy in Moscow for help.

This appeal to the former colonial power (which was reported on Portugal's overseas radio service) clearly annoyed the Angolan government, which considered lodging a formal protest to the Portuguese foreign ministry.

At the same time, an emergency meeting of the Angolan cabinet was called to try and find ways of releasing funds for the students - and the Angolan education minister threatened to resign if the money were not forthcoming.

Russia's foreign ministry, meanwhile, decided that it could wait no longer for the Angolans to come up with a solution.

It appealed to the Russian state committee for higher education for emergency help for the students - while stressing that it still expects the "competent authorities" in Angola to "find a solution without delay".

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