|24 February 2002
ANGOLA: Savimbi's death new impetus to peace process
The death of veteran Angolan
rebel leader Jonas Savimbi has added new impetus to the search for a settlement
to the country's long-running civil war, analysts told IRIN over the
Savimbi was killed on Friday, Feb 22, by Angolan government
troops (FAA) after a fierce gun battle near Lucusse, about 700 km east of
Luanda, the capital. His column, hunted by the FAA, was reportedly
headed for the Zambian border. State television on Saturday showed the body of
the 67-year-old guerrilla chieftain, who had led the UNITA rebel movement since
1966, sprawled on a makeshift table. The authorities said his corpse would be
publically displayed in Luanda.
"I'm so optimistic. The nightmare has
ended and the future has just begun," Dinho Chingunji, spokesman for the
anti-Savimbi UNITA-Renovada faction in the United States told IRIN. There are,
however, question marks over whether UNITA commanders in the bush will continue
fighting, or if Savimbi's death could clear the obstacles to a peace
UNITA was under pressure in the eastern province of Moxico,
as the FAA sought to role up Savimbi's forces, but remained active in the north
of the country.
"In terms of charisma nobody can replace Savimbi, but
in terms of politics and military operations there are still people with the
capacity [to take over]," an Angola analyst in Luanda told IRIN. "The situation
is unpredictable right now."
Regional commentator Claude Kabemba said
that the problem of Savimbi's absolute hold on power in UNITA was now going to
impact on the movement. He said there was a possibility of splits as hardline
elements in the bush struggled for power. "Either we see the continuation of
the war with a very weakened UNITA or a strategy to get into negotiations with
the government and secure [the party's] future with a negotiated settlement,"
Kabemba told IRIN. He added that the government could be tempted to try to
finish off UNITA militarily once and for all, but the situation also gave "a
window" to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to play a key role
in brokering peace.
According to Chingunji, Savimbi's movement was run
by fear, and his death means "the shackles have been broken and it is just a
matter of time before [those in the bush] give up ... I don't see them lasting
beyond a year."
However, in an interview last month, UNITA
parliamentarian Abel Chivukuvuku told IRIN: "Nobody should expect a solution if
something happens to Dr Savimbi. In the current circumstances in UNITA among
those fighting, Dr Savimbi is the person whom, if he states 'yes, this
[initiative] is good', every one would follow. I don't know if everyone would
follow, for instance, the [UNITA] vice-president Antonio Dembo. I don't think
anybody sees [Savimbi's close aide Paulo Lukamba] Gato as a leader."
Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos is to meet US President George Bush
later this month in Washington where he has the opportunity to present a new
vision for his country. News reports said that the US government is already
encouraging Luanda towards an inclusive peace agreement, under the framework of
the moribund 1994 Lusaka protocol, as is the rest of the international
community. There have also been promises of western development aid.
Domestically, the government is also under pressure to find a resolution to the
conflict. Civil society had been demanding a national conference to chart
Angola's way forward, that goes beyond the interim power sharing arrangement
between UNITA and the ruling MPLA party contained in the Lusaka agreement.
Angola has some of the world's worst social indicators, and the
government had long promised that an end to the war would allow it to start
addressing the deep poverty most Angolans live under.