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Sunday, 24 February, 2002, 01:32 GMT
Angola rebel leader's death confirmed
Corpse of Jonas Savimbi
Savimbi had been pursued by a large government force
The Angolan rebel movement Unita has confirmed the death of its veteran leader Jonas Savimbi, whose bullet-riddled body has been shown on television.

Mr Savimbi's body was shown to reporters in Lucusse, a remote town in Moxico province, eastern Angola. Western media screened the pictures on Saturday.

There is no leader to succeed Savimbi within the (Unita) ranks, so they would know that this is the hour for coming to a settlement

Pik Botha
former South Africa foreign minister
The Angolan state news agency Angop said Mr Savimbi, 67 - who has led Unita for more than 30 years - died in fighting with government troops on Friday.

Unita said it would issue a statement in the next 24 hours, coinciding with a visit to the Portuguese capital, Lisbon, by the Angolan President, Jose Eduardo dos Santos.

A Unita spokesman said the war would go on, but some observers are now predicting Unita's collapse.

A Portuguese state television reporter, Alves Fernandes, said the Unita leader's body "sustained 15 bullet wounds, two in his head and the rest spread through his upper body and legs".

War not over yet

The BBC's Justin Pearce in Luanda says that although Jonas Savimbi was the driving force behind the long-running war in Angola, his death will not end the conflict automatically.

Unita has been fighting against the Luanda government since 1975, when civil war erupted after Angola's independence from Portugal.

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

  • The latest fighting is reported to have taken place southeast of Luena, the provincial capital.

    Angolan reporters said two senior rebel officers - brigadiers Big Jo and Bula - were also killed, but that some of Mr Savimbi's closest aides managed to flee.

    The Portuguese TV reporter said one of Mr Savimbi's four wives, whom he identified as Catarina, was wounded in the battle and was being treated at a nearby hospital. A bodyguard was also wounded.

    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 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.

    The conflict 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.

    Peace hopes

    The Portuguese Prime Minister, Antonio Guterres, said the international community must now do more to bring peace to Angola.

    Angolan troops
    Angola has been racked by war for 25 years
    Portugal's envoy to its former colony said the United States and Russia, which with Portugal form a "troika" charged with monitoring the stalled Angolan peace process, had told Luanda they were ready to resume those duties.

    Former South Africa Foreign Minister Pik Botha, a close ally of Mr Savimbi during the cold war, saw an opportunity for peace in the rebel leader's death.

    "There is no leader to succeed Savimbi within the [Unita] ranks, so they would know that this is the hour for coming to a settlement," said Mr Botha, quoted by Reuters news agency.

    The BBC's Nick Hawton
    "He was the driving force behind the rebel movement"
    Unita representative Joffre Justino
    "He died in combat"
    Africa Inform, Dr Vincent Magombe
    "We have always seen some form of power struggle"
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