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Saturday, 23 February, 2002, 05:51 GMT
Angolan rebel leader 'killed'
Jonas Savimbi
The civil war has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives
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.

We are going to broadcast television footage of the body

Presidential spokesman Almiro da Conceicao
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.

Angolan troops
Angola has been wracked by war for 25 years
A Unita representative in Portugal dismissed the reports of Mr Savimbi's death, saying they were simply propapanda.

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 to issue a false report on a matter of such importance.

Our correspondent says that although Jonas Savimbi was the driving force behind the war in Angola, his death, if confirmed, will not end the conflict automatically.

Body 'will be shown'

The Angolan Government said Mr Savimbi had been killed in the rural eastern province of Moxico - about 700 kilometres (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 Moxico.

"We are going to broadcast television footage of the body," the spokesman was quoted as saying.

Since late last year, the Angolan army has been waging a renewed military campaign against Unita in Moxico 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 ceasefire 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 was greeted with jubilation by some in Luanda.

People drove round the city sounding their car horns and firing off flares into the air.

But our correspondent says others were more subdued, either doubting the veracity of the reports or fearing for the future.

The BBC's Anita Coulson
"He always believed it was his destiny to rule his native land"
The BBC's Justin Pearce
"Savimbi was... the driving force behind the Unita rebellion"
Herman Cohen, Analyst in African Affairs
"I can't see Unita continuing the war without him"
Patrick Smith of African Confidential
"The killing of Savimbi... is the end of the old Unita as a military operation"
See also:

23 Feb 02 | Africa
Analysis: Angola's peace dividend
26 May 01 | Africa
Rebels free children in Angola
22 May 01 | Africa
Unita attack east of Luanda
11 May 01 | Africa
Angolan children relive raid
21 Feb 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Angola
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