Reuters International

LUANDA (Reuters) - Nine Angolan soldiers were killed and 14 wounded in a flareup of fighting with rebels in the country's oil-producing Cabinda enclave, the separatist guerrilla group said on Friday.

The southern African country's government and military declined comment. The rebel Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC) urged foreign workers to leave the region, saying their lives were in danger.

"The situation remains uncertain in the Belize area in Cabinda, and remains very tense because of fighting with heavy weapons that took place from July 25-28," an FLEC statement said.

The FLEC, which wants independence for a territory that accounts for half of Angola's oil output, has increased its tough talk since the death of its 88-year-old founder Nzita Tiago earlier this year in exile in France.

Men claiming to be rebels boarded an offshore Chevron gas platform in late May and threatened foreign petroleum workers in a rare sign of the simmering instability in heavily guarded Cabinda.

The incident cast doubt on the Luanda government's assertion that the FLEC has fizzled out since a 2007 peace deal.

Densely forested Cabinda is separated from the rest of Angola by the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and has a distinct ethnic make-up that has fuelled a low-grade guerrilla secessionist campaign since independence from Portugal in 1975.

The province of 700,000 people suffers from widespread poverty even by Angolan standards, and its plight has worsened this year as foreign oil companies laid off thousands of workers to cut costs in the wake of the collapse in crude prices.

(Reporting by Herculano Coroado; writing by TJ Strydom; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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