Savimbi planned ceasefire

2002-04-07 14:41

Luanda - Angola's slain rebel leader Jonas Savimbi signed an order to his troops' commanders to effect a unilateral ceasefire two days before his death, a Unita official said on Sunday.

General Samuel Kapingana, Unita's deputy chief of staff, said Savimbi had advised his commanders of his plan for a truce from March 15 before he was killed in battle with the army on February 22.

"Jonas Savimbi had advised all his commanders on the military fronts and asked them to prepare themselves for a unilateral ceasefire that would be declared on March 15," he told AFP.

Another Unita military leader, General Kalias, said on the sidelines of a meeting between rebel military chiefs and civil society on Saturday that "Doctor Savimbi had wanted to put in place his last wish to end the war".

Kapingana had taken up contacts with the Roman Catholic Sant'Egidio community in September 2001 in a bid to set up talks between the rebels and the government.

"Savimbi also wanted to offer a 30-day truce during December 2001. That's why he had also launched an initiative through the church," Kapingana said.

The first step

That truce would have been the first step toward resuming negotiations with the government, he said.

After Savimbi's death, the military leaders of his National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (Unita) agreed to a ceasefire with breath-taking speed, officially signing a deal to end the fighting on Thursday.

Savimbi had written to Roman Catholic bishops in March 2001 to help restart peace negotiations between his movement and the government.

Dim prospects for a ceasefire had flickered during the last year, as each side demanded that the other be the first to lay down arms.

The deal signed last week is the fourth agreement since the civil war broke out in 1975, but without Savimbi, international observers have said this could be the best chance yet for a peace deal to stick.

The war in Angola has left at least 500 000 dead, according to the most conservative estimates.

About 4.1 million people, roughly one third of the population, have been displaced by the war, which has devastated the economy of a nation rich in natural resources. - Sapa-AFP