March 6, 2002

New UNITA leader dead?

The possible death of new UNITA leader General Antonio Dembo could lead to a cessation of hostilities between the rebel movement and the government's armed forces, UNITA spokesman Jaka Jamba told IRIN. Speaking from Luanda, Jamba said Dembo's death so soon after that of longtime UNITA commander Dr Jonas Savimbi in February would further weaken the rebel faction remaining on the battlefield and could serve as a catalyst to the peace process.

"It happens that with this new reality, maybe it could create a momentum that if very well managed, could permit a truce and later on the negotiating of a ceasefire and other issues of the Lusaka Protocol” (a peace blueprint agreed to in 1994), he said. "What we foresee, and it will prevail, is that now it is urgent that the war must be stopped and conditions must be created to do this, and to start with a cessation of hostilities and to negotiate a ceasefire, and later on to implement he other items of the Lusaka Protocol.". What was needed, he said was a clear signal from the Angolan government that it would co-operate. He did not say what this signal might be.

Jamba was speaking as a mission of the Angolan Armed Forces (FAA) visited the eastern Moxico province to investigate a captured UNITA rebel's claims that he had buried Dembo after he died from injuries in the same battle in which Savimbi was killed. The mission was expected back in Luanda on Thursday, March 7.

Confusion over Dembo's death mounted on Wednesday, March 6, however, with news reports that FAA had intercepted a message sent from Dembo to UNITA's northern rebel command to cease offensive operations. Lusa reported that Defense Minister Kundi Paihama told national radio that the message ordered a General Apolo to "contain" his forces, not to launch "offensive actions" and to "stay on the defensive". The report said Paihama did not disclose when the message was supposed to have been intercepted.

The defence minister said government forces were waiting to see whether the northern rebel front would cease hostilities, threatening to crush them if they did not. However, at least two UNITA offensives have been reported by FAA since Savimbi's death.

Meanwhile, according to Zel Sinclair, UNHCR protection officer for Angola, there has been no information to suggest mass population movements in the instability following Savimbi's death. "People are staying put," she told IRIN. "We haven't noticed any big movements of people, there is some spontaneous movement that continues, but nothing that makes believe there has been a mass influx in or out (of any areas)." (IRIN)

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