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Angola, UNITA Sign Cease-Fire Aimed at Ending 27 Years of War - 2002-03-30

Angolan government forces and UNITA rebels have signed a cease-fire accord in Luena, the capital of Moxico province. According to reports, the agreement was signed in the presence of United Nations and other international officials.

The cease-fire is aimed at bringing an end to 27 years of civil war in Angola. The accord was signed by the deputy armed forces chief, General Geraldo Nundo, and UNITA's chief of staff, General Abreu Ucuatchitembo, following two weeks of peace talks.

Last month, UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi was killed by government forces, prompting speculation that his death would lead to a revival in peace efforts. Mr. Savimbi's deputy, Antonio Dembo, died days later of natural causes, adding to the leadership vacuum in the rebel movement - and, say some analysts, leaving UNITA fragmented.

This was evident as the talks got under way, with some UNITA officials charging that the UNITA delegates at the negotiations were no more than prisoners of war.

However, as the talks progressed, more and more UNITA factions acknowledged their legitimacy. This change of heart may have been initiated by UNITA Secretary-General Paulo Lukamba, a popular leader known as General Gato, who has appeared to support the talks, although reports say he was not a delegate.

As many as one million Angolans are believed to have been killed in the civil war. The country is littered with landmines, and Angola is said to have the highest number of people who have lost limbs in landmine incidents.

Angola is rich in oil and diamonds and has enormous agricultural potential, but three decades of war have devastated the economy and uprooted one third of the country's population of 12 million.