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Angolan Rebel Leader Reportedly Killed

by Borlight Sunday, Feb. 24, 2002 at 12:52 AM

BBC Reports That UNITA Leader Jonas Savimbi Is Killed In Angola

BBC World Service, 2/22/02 - The Angolan authorities say the veteran rebel leader Jonas Savimbi is dead. A government statement said Mr. Savimbi had been killed in fighting between Angolan army forces and his UNITA rebels on Friday. There has been no independent confirmation of the reported death of Mr. Savimbi who has led UNITA for more than 30 years. The rebel movement has been engaged in civil war in Angola almost continuously since 1975 and for a while in 1992 controlled more than half the country.

'Closing in'

The Angolan Government said Mr. Savimbi had been killed in the rural eastern province of Mexico - about 700 kilometers (480 miles) south-east of the capital, Luanda. A spokesman for President Jose Eduardo dos Santos said the army was holding Mr. Savimbi's body in Mexico. "We are going to broadcast television footage of the body," the spokesman was quoted as saying.

A UNITA representative in Portugal dismissed the reports of Mr. Savimbi's death, saying they were simply propaganda. However the BBC's Justin Pearce in Luanda says that while in the past the Angolan army has exaggerated its reports of military victories, it would be unlikely issue a false report on a matter of such importance.

Since late last year, the Angolan army has been waging a renewed military campaign against UNITA in Mexico province, which was seen as the last rebel stronghold. The army had said it was closing in on Mr. Savimbi, and several senior rebel officers were captured in the area.

Jonas Savimbi was born in 1934 and founded UNITA - the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola - in the late 1960s as a rival movement to the MPLA which later became the government.

No peace in sight

UNITA has been fighting against the Luanda government since 1975 when civil war erupted after Angola's independence from Portugal. Elections were held during a cease-fire in 1992, but UNITA did not accept the results and fighting resumed. Another attempt to find peace in 1994 finally broke down in 1998 and the country returned to war. The conflict in Angola is estimated to have killed more than 500,000 people, and displaced hundreds of thousands of others.

News of Mr. Savimbi's death has been greeted with jubilation in Luanda. People drove round the city sounding their car horns and firing off flares into the air.

(Comment: For those of you too young to remember, Savimbi was embraced by former President Ronald Reagan who called the UNITA leader a "Freedom Fighter" against the Marxist government of Angola. That having been said, Angola is no workers' paradise.)

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