FEELS GOOD TO BE HOME

"That's my brother, that's my brother," Serafim Vunda, 18, gasped from inside a Red Cross car, putting his hand to the window, weakly waving to a boy sitting in the shade of a grass hut.

"That's my brother, that's my brother," Serafim Vunda, 18, gasped from inside a Red Cross car, putting his hand to the window, weakly waving to a boy sitting in the shade of a grass hut.

The Angolan brothers have not seen each other in 10 years, because at the age of eight Serafim and about 20 other children were captured by Unita rebels and forced into their service.

They have been reunited through a family reunification programme of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), but are among the last to benefit from its help as the agency winds down its operations after 34 years.

With the civil war over seven years ago, the ICRC has handed over its clinics to the government and the Angolan Red Cross will take over family reunifications.

In a country where such stories are all too common, Serafim is painfully aware that he is among the last to benefit.

For two years he was kept by the rebels in northern Angola and made to carry guns and supplies, forced to sleep rough and survive on scraps of food.

In 2002, after the death of Unita leader Jonas Savimbi and the subsequent end of the 27-year civil war, Serafim, then 10, made his way home to the town of Negage in Uige. But he could not find his family among the burnt-out and bullet-marked buildings so he lived rough until he was taken in by a "foster" mother.

Serafim, who has had just a few months' schooling in his life and can barely read or write, spent the next few years working in the fields with his new family, growing sweet potatoes and corn.

Now he is reunited with his mother, uncle, grandmother and five siblings.

As he stepped out of the car, a woman ran towards him. Helena Azevedo, 43, hugged him but then stepped back and wailed, her eyes closed, overcome with emotion. She had never expected to see her son again. Serafim's father, Casimiro Sangola, had been killed in Uige and soon afterwards Serafim was kidnapped.

"It's been a dream to see him for so long and now he is here," she said.

"I've wanted this very much for a long time, to be home," he said.

Serafim is one of tens of thousands of children who were forced to take part in a war that robbed generations of children of their parents and their childhood .

Since the war ended, the ICRC has reunited 750 Angolans. - Sapa-AFP

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