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Angola Rebels, Officials Ponder Post-Savimbi Future - 2002-02-24

Angolan authorities have buried the body of slain UNITA rebel leader Jonas Savimbi in the rural town where he was killed. The international community is urging both sides in Angola's long-running civil war to work toward peace.

Angolan state radio says Jonas Savimbi was buried in the town of Lucusse, in Moxico province, near the Zambian border in southeastern Angola.

The rapid burial brought an end to questions about what government officials would do with the body of the man who, for years, they had called a war criminal.

The burial came quickly after his bullet-riddled body had been videotaped in the same town, lying on a cot underneath a tree. He wore bloodstained combat fatigues and appeared to have a gunshot wound in the neck.

The video was broadcast on state television Saturday, as the government attempted to dispel any doubts that the reclusive 67-year-old rebel leader is really dead.

The army says it killed Mr. Savimbi in battle Friday.

Despite the showing of body on television, some residents of the capital, Luanda, are still expressing skepticism about whether Mr. Savimbi really is dead. A few people told Western reporters they still believe it could be some kind of trick by the government.

But most people, including members of UNITA, are finally accepting the death of Mr. Savimbi as reality. Some government supporters celebrated the fact by parading through the streets of the capital, waving banners.

The question now is what comes next for UNITA and for Angola.

Jonas Savimbi led UNITA from its birth as a liberation movement in 1966. After nine years of fighting Portuguese colonialism, he moved on to battle against the new Angolan government, following independence in 1975.

Since then, the war has killed an estimated half-million people. It has forced another four million people, about one-third of Angola's Population, out of their homes.

U.N. peace efforts briefly brought the war to a halt in 1992, and elections were held. But after UNITA lost the first round of voting, Mr. Savimbi complained of vote-rigging and returned to the bush to continue the war.

Another peace initiative brought another cease-fire a few years later, but that, too, fell apart.

Now analysts wonder whether UNITA will be able to hold itself together as a coherent rebel movement without the only man who has ever led it.

Some believe it will simply disintegrate without him. Others say a power struggle could emerge between his two top aides, Antonio Dembo and Paulo Lukamba Gato.

The Angolan government is urging all UNITA fighters to lay down their weapons and give up.

The international community is urging both sides to use the death of Mr. Savimbi as an opportunity to work toward peace.

Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos has left for a previously scheduled visit to Portugal and the United States. He is scheduled to talk with President George W. Bush and the leaders of Mozambique, Malawi and Botswana about prospects for peace.