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Wednesday, 27 March, 2002, 10:57 GMT
Angola rebels back truce talks
Goverment and rebels in talks in Luena
Unita's European contingent want the talks monitored
Senior political representatives of Angola's Unita rebel movement have given their blessing to ceasefire talks with the government.

Negotiations headed by the group's Secretary-General, Paulo Lukamba "Gato", began last week in the city of Luena, 700km (420 miles) east of the capital Luanda.

There had been concerns that the Unita representatives were being held against their will by the Angolan army, but there is a growing consensus among the group that the talks are genuine.

Unita lawmakers in the Angolan parliament voted on Tuesday to endorse the move.

UNITA Secretary General Paulo Lukamba Gato
General Gato is leading the negotiations
And Unita's representatives in Europe issued a statement supporting the talks, although they urged them to be moved to a different location where they could be monitored by independent observers.

Their support has bolstered hopes of a breakthrough in Angola's long-running civil war, which had already been raised by the death of Unita's founding leader, Jonas Savimbi.

Unity divisions

"At the outset, we had the impression the negotiations were just a show," Isaias Samakuva, a top Unita official in Europe told the Portuguese newspaper Diario Economico.

"But the Unita secretary general told me the negotiations were now being conducted in earnest," he said.

The BBC's Justin Pearce in Angola says the Unita MPs hope this will be the first step towards holding a congress that will unite the different elements of the rebel group and allow a new party leadership to be elected.

Most Angola observers agree that Unita is the only party with the potential to present an effective opposition to the ruling MPLA - if it can overcome its divisions.

It therefore has an important role to play in the development of a properly functioning democracy in Angola, they say.

Following the death of Savimbi the army halted offensives on 13 March.

Sporadic fighting has been reported in remote areas in recent days, but there has been an overall sharp decline in military clashes, according to the government and aid agencies.

See also:

25 Mar 02 | Africa
Attacks undermine Angola talks
20 Mar 02 | Africa
Unita leaders 'arrested'
17 Mar 02 | Africa
Unita casts doubts on peace talks
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