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Thursday, 4 April, 2002, 13:06 GMT 14:06 UK
General Gato: Unita's new leader
General Gato
The hardliner accepted peace
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By the BBC's Justin Pearce
Luanda
line

Of the group of Unita officers gathered in the lobby of Luanda's smartest hotel, there was little doubt who was in charge.

The diminutive military commander, General Abreu Kamorteiro, kept a low profile. Publicity secretary Marcial Dachala dealt charmingly with the public enquiries.


We did not come to the agreement with a rope around our necks or a knife at our throats

General Gato
But the moment that secretary general Paulo Lukamba - better known as General Gato - walked down the stairs, everyone deferred to the man in the dark suit, his beard meticulously trimmed.

After what must have been a gruelling few months on the run before arriving in the capital, he had still managed to find a tie embroidered with Unita's black cockerel logo.

Peace move

"Gato" means cat - and there certainly is a feline inscrutability about Unita's interim leader, who smiles rarely, and talks quietly but with an air of unshakeable conviction.

He had a reputation as a hardliner within Unita. When the death of Savimbi's successor, General Antonio Dembo, left General Gato next in line for the interim leadership of Unita, at least one observer expressed doubts that peace plans would go ahead.

Unita delegation at talks with the Angolan army - March 2002
Unita returned to the negotiating table

When the general arrived in Luanda, he dispelled any lingering fears about his commitment to peace.

But he also insisted that the decision to halt hostilities came not from himself, but from Savimbi, who he said had expressed support for a negotiated settlement two months before his death.

"It was a not a political decision taken by the present leadership, but was the continuation of a programme which Dr Savimbi had in relation to peace and national reconciliation," General Gato told the BBC.

Unbeaten

He also dismissed suggestions that Unita had effectively been defeated in battle by the Angolan Armed Forces.

"We did not come to the agreement with a rope around our necks or a knife at our throats," he said.


We will change absolutely nothing in the programme for which Dr Savimbi lost his life

General Gato

"We came firstly because it was the way the president [Jonas Savimbi] had chosen and secondly, because we analysed the national and international situation and decided that negotiation would be the best option - but it was not the only option."

In the past few weeks, leading civilian figures in Unita have stated their support for General Gato as the man to lead the movement.

If the authoritarian culture adopted by Unita during its years in the bush has helped to cement his respect within the party, it has also left him to some extent still in Savimbi's shadow.

Toward elections

"We will change absolutely nothing in the programme for which Dr Savimbi lost his life: Angolan identity, respect for difference, equal opportunities, democracy and the rule of law," he said.

While denying that Unita was defeated, he admitted that the government had gained a "strategic victory" by "decapitating" Unita through the killing of Jonas Savimbi.

It is Unita's constitution which determined that General Gato, as secretary general, became interim leader following the deaths of Savimbi and General Dembo.

He told the BBC the party was moving towards holding a congress "which would allow us to welcome a legitimate leadership that would take the country towards the next elections".

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Justin Pearce
"Rebel officials are expected to arrive in the capital before the signing"
The BBC's Hilary Andersson
"How do you demobilise these men now?"
See also:

31 Mar 02 | Africa
Angola: One step from peace
02 Apr 02 | Africa
Angola rebels granted amnesty
31 Mar 02 | Africa
Angola moves closer to peace
27 Mar 02 | Africa
Angola rebels back truce talks
07 Mar 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Angola
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