22 February 2002

ANGOLA: Savimbi reported dead, while Traditional Leaders call for national conference

The Angolan government has announced that rebel leader Jonas Savimbi was killed on friday, February 22, in fighting with government forces in the central-eastern province of Moxico. Angolan presidential representative Aldemiro da Conceicao told Portuguese private radio TSF in an interview that Savimbi's body was now in government hands and would soon be shown to the public. Conceicao said he hoped that Portugal, Russia and the United States - the "troika" of nations whose observers monitor the fragile peace since accords were signed with Unita in 1994 - would have a "rational and understanding reaction" to his death. The government also appealed to UNITA forces to lay down their arms. In Luanda, people spontaneously started celebrating what appears to open the way for nationalwide peacefor the first time since years.

Early this week, Angola's traditional leaders added their voices to the call for an immediate ceasefire and the creation of a sovereign national conference to discuss the country's political future. More than 100 traditional chiefs and kings attended a meeting in Luanda organised by the Open Society Foundation to discuss the role of civil society in the resolution of the long-running Angolan conflict. In a statement released on Thursday the traditional authorities said: "The war in Angola has already touched everyone, and much effort has already been put into the search for a solution. Yet the war never seems to stop. Because the interests and hidden agendas of those who wage and who support the war continue to complicate the process of building a real and lasting peace. "So, we the chiefs ask our children, the politicians who govern us or who seek to govern us: To be civilised, does that mean to order and to oversee the death of one's own people? To loot the riches of the country? To destroy one's own country in the name of the enemy? But who is the enemy who deserves the honour of such a sacrifice, the sacrifice of an entire nation?"

The statement said Angola was now "a land of displaced people". "Today, Angola has almost ceased to exist. The country is little more than Luanda. Family has come to mean only those who live in Luanda, since those who live in the provinces are condemned to isolation. This is why we believe that the peace process needs to start at the bottom and not from the top down, so that those who are at the top may come to understand that their position depends on those who are at the bottom."

The statement added that "for the good of Angola" the chiefs call on the people to demand a sovereign national conference on peace and the future of Angola. "At this conference we must define the roles of the political parties, of civil society, of traditional leaders and of the churches in the resolution of the Angolan conflict. Such a definition will help in the creation of a common understanding of the reconciliation process and of open and patriotic government, and in the reconstruction of the country. "It is at this conference that we will be able, as Angolans, to draw up a vision for the future of Angola, so that tomorrow, new generations may be able to follow the paths of righteousness and prosperity," the traditional leaders said.

Rafael Marques, the representative of the pro-democracy Open Society Foundation in Angola, said in a statement at the beginning of the conference that, "even though the authorities, the rebels and the United Nations, at the helm of the international community, have all agreed to a process of dialogue to end the war, the carnage continues unabated... Dialogue has become more a matter of rhetoric rather than an actual and effective tool to bring Angolans together. Hence, it is important for civil society to address the roles and objectives to be played at the negotiating table in order to help establish concrete plans on the ways forward to peace, reconciliation and development," Marques said.

The conference drew academics, political leaders, priests and humanitarian officials together in a bid to lay the ground work for an Angolan-owned and civil society-led peace initiative to end 27 years of civil war. (IRIN, Red.)

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