UNITA Leader Jonas Savimbi Killed By Government Fighters

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(Rapaport…February 25, 2002) Jonas Savimbi, leader of the Angolan rebel group UNITA, was killed by Angolan government fighters and was confirmed dead on February 23. He was 67 years old.

For more than two decades, Savimbi has waged a civil war in Angola, partly funded by the sale of conflict diamonds. UNITA rebels have vowed to continue fighting despite the death of their leader, but the loss of Savimbi has sent hope throughout Africa that peace may soon come to the southwest African country.

The United Nations representative in Angola, Mussagi Jeichande, said he regretted Savimbi’s killing, according to CNN, but he added, “We have to see this, probably, as the beginning of the end of Angola’s war.”

Savimbi founded UNITA in 1966 to fight against Portugal’s colonial rule and has remained the unquestioned group leader ever since. He walked away from three peace accords with the Angolan government during the 1990s, the latest of which — the Lusaka peace deal — collapsed in 1998. It is believed that anywhere from 500,000 to 1 million people have died in the civil war and that about 4 million people — a third of the nation’s population — have been driven from their homes.

Possible successors to Savimbi are UNITA vice president Antonio Dembo and a Savimbi aide, Paulo Lukamba Gato, but diplomats say they expect a power struggle to ensue.

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