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Saturday, 23 February, 2002, 11:23 GMT
Angola 'to display' rebel leader's body
Jonas Savimbi
The civil war has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives
The Angolan authorities say the body of veteran rebel leader Jonas Savimbi will be shown to journalists in a remote area in the east of the country in a few hours' time.

The death of the Unita leader would be a key event in the history of Angola if confirmed.

The government said he was killed in fighting between the army and Unita rebels on Friday.

Jonas Savimbi

Jonas Savimbi

  • Born in 1934 in Bie province
  • Fought the Angolan Government since independence in 1975
  • US President Ronald Reagan called him a "freedom fighter".
  • Made a failed election bid in 1992
  • Rarely seen in public

    Click here for full profile

  • But there has been no independent confirmation of the reported death of Mr Savimbi, who has led Unita for more than 30 years.

    The official news agency says his body will be put on show in the town of Lucusse in Moxico province, where he was reported to have been killed.

    Independent journalists in the capital, Luanda, were not invited to attend.

    Earlier reports suggested that the body would be brought to Luanda, but there is still no certainty regarding when or whether this will happen.

    The news agency report also identified two of the other men said to have been killed alongside Savimbi - two brigadiers, known as Big Jo and Bula.

    A Unita representative in Portugal dismissed the reports of Mr Savimbi's death, saying they were simply propapanda.

    The BBC's Justin Pearce in Luanda says a certain amount of scepticism about the report still exists among people who have lived through years of war with lies being told on both sides of the conflict.

    'Closing in'

    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.

    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.

    Jonas Savimbi 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.

    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.

    Angolan troops
    Angola has been wracked by war for 25 years

    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"
    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
    23 Feb 02 | Media reports
    Text: Savimbi death announcement
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