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LUANDA (Reuters Life!) - A strange phenomenon has been taking place in the classified ad section of state-owned daily Jornal de Angola that is raising eyebrows in the African nation.
Every day, at least five or six ads of missing Chinese passports are published in the newspaper: "Lost - Chinese Passport, G18073676, pertaining to Chun Jian Chen, contact 922 236 2951."
Over 100,000 Chinese workers are estimated to be spread out across oil and mineral producing Angola, laying railroad tracks, paving new highways and building hotels and roads. But nobody knows for sure as there are no official figures.
This, and the fact that the only ones advertising for lost passports in Angola's only daily newspaper seem to be Chinese nationals has sparked all kinds of speculation.
"Why is it that Chinese passports disappear with more frequency than those of the French, Senegalese and other foreigners," Angolan writer and former minister Artur Pestana, also known as Pepetela, asked in an opinion column published in Africa 21 magazine.
After exploring several theories on the missing Chinese passport mystery, including a theory on why Chinese who sleep in crowded rooms are more prone to lose their documents, Pepetela arrived at the following possibility:
"It could be that once the Chinese reach Angolan territory they send their passport back and the document is used by a colleague or family member."
A police official in Luanda brushed aside a passport scheme involving some Chinese in Angola. The Chinese embassy in Angola was not immediately available for comment.
"With today's technology, it's almost impossible to recycle a passport in that way," said the official who asked not to be named as he is not authorized to speak to the media.
Reuters tried to contact several of the missing Chinese passport ads on Jornal de Angola but the telephone numbers in the ads were unavailable.
Leandro Zhao, a Chinese national who has worked for almost three years as the chief translator for a construction company in Luanda, said some Chinese were simply being careless.
"They just lost their passports," said Zhao, whose company GHCB, employs around 700 Chinese nationals.
Another explanation is that Chinese firms responsible for keeping their employee's passports sometimes get the passports mixed up, he added.
"There are a lot of Chinese in Angola. It's only normal that some lose their passports," said Zhao.
Yet for Angolans like Pepetela the mystery of the missing Chinese passports continues.
"Every time we see those ads in Jornal de Angola we will think to ourselves what is going on with the Chinese passports," wrote Pepetela.
"Are they flying away like Beijing's paper kites?"
Reporting by Henrique Almeida, editing by Paul Casciato