The first Cuban soldiers to be withdrawn from Angola returned home Wednesday to a hero's welcome.
The 450 servicemen and women flew back from Luanda aboard two Cuban planes and an Angolan airliner which landed at night at Havana's Jose Marti International Airport.The pullout, first step in the phased withdrawal of all 50,000 Cuban troops stationed in Angola and part of peace accords signed by Angola, Cuba and South Africa at the United Nations on Dec. 22, will effectively put an end to 13 years of Cuban military presence in the African nation.
According to the agreed timetable, 3,000 Cuban troops must be withdrawn by April 1, the date of implementation of a 1978 U.N. resolution on the independence of Namibia from South African rule.
The Cuban troops, wearing camouflage uniforms and campaign medals pinned to their chests, were greeted by a large Communist Party and government delegation headed by Defense Minister and Cuba's number two leader Gen. Raul Castro.
Only Cuban journalists were allowed at the airport.
Another 1,000 Cuban troops quietly slipped out of Angola on a Soviet freighter Tuesday night, the Cubans said.
The head of a United Nations observer team, Gen. Pericles Ferreira Gomes of Brazil, confirmed the seaborne departure but refused to say how many Cubans were aboard. He said at a news conference that the observer team was obliged to trust the Cuban and Angolan governments to provide accurate figures.
A formal welcome ceremony was planned for Wednesday afternoon at the Cacahual mausoleum for heroes of Cuba's independence, on the outskirts of the capital.
The U.N.-monitored phased withdrawal of the Cubans, who went to Angola in 1975 to support the Marxist government in its fight against Western-backed rebels, is to be completed by mid-1991.