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Monday, 25 February, 2002, 02:08 GMT
Savimbi 'died with gun in hand'
Corpse of Jonas Savimbi
Savimbi was laid out for viewing under a tree
Angolan rebel leader Jonas Savimbi fought until the very end, say officers who have been describing their final gun battle with the man who spent most of the last 40 years in armed conflict.

He tried to resist with his gun, but then he was dead

Brigadier Wala
Brigadier Wala, who headed the army unit that killed Savimbi, told the Portuguese news agency Lusa he had died like a soldier, "with a gun in his hand".

The 67-year-old Unita leader was killed on Friday alongside 21 of his bodyguards on the banks of the Luvuei River in the eastern province of Moxico, he said.

Savimbi had not been easy to catch. He had tried to lay false scents with "diversionary manoeuvres such as crossing various rivers, including the Luvuei and the Luonze".

The army caught up with him, Brigadier Wala said, after killing two of his most senior officers, Brigadier Mbule and General "Big Joy".

The latter's death was a serious setback, as it deprived Savimbi of diversionary troops who had until then concentrated on attracting attention away from their leader.

Savimbi was further weakened when he "lost important means of communication" by radio.

"Savimbi decided to rest. Confident, as always, he had nonetheless placed his units on alert," Brigadier Wala said.

"Too late, we had already surprised them. He fought back with gunfire, and that's why he was killed," said Brigadier Wala.

"He tried to resist with his gun, but then he was dead."

Buried under a tree

Savimbi was shot a total of 15 times - once in the throat, twice in the head, and the rest in the chest, legs and arms.

The army offensive was dubbed Kissonde, named after a violent ant, state media said.

One of his four wives, Catarina, was captured and is in hospital in Luena, the capital of Moxico Province.

Savimbi is reported to have been buried on Saturday in the village of Lucusse, about 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) south-east of the capital, Luanda, under a tree near where he was killed.

The BBC's Nick Hawton
"He was the driving force behind the rebel movement"
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