U.S. defense officials say the Pentagon had no role in the tracking down and killing of Angolan rebel leader Jonas Savimbi.

"No, unequivocally, no." That is how defense officials respond when asked if the United States provided any intelligence or other military assistance to Angola's armed forces in tracking down and killing UNITA rebel leader Jonas Savimbi.

The denial comes just days after Angolan authorities revealed the 67 year-old Savimbi was shot and killed by government troops in a firefight near the Zambian border.

It also comes on the eve of talks here in Washington between President Bush and Angolan President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos.

Mr. Dos Santos is long known to have wanted U.S. help in his government's hunt for the fugitive rebel leader.

But some 18 months ago, U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told VOA Washington had refused to provide any help because it did not want to be a party to Mr. Savimbi's death.

Diplomatic sources say Angolan President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos had issued orders that Mr. Savimbi was to be captured alive and brought to the capital, Luanda, to stand trial on criminal charges.

But even senior aides to the Angolan leader had conceded any soldiers involved in Mr. Savimbi's capture would be unlikely to restrain themselves. These aides were convinced the rebel leader would be killed on the spot in retaliation for the years of bloodshed he is accused of causing in Angola.

Angola has not enjoyed peace since its independence from Portugal in 1975. A 1994 peace agreement triggered hopes of an end to civil strife. But Mr. Savimbi refused to live up to his disarmament commitments under the United Nations brokered deal, and the government launched what was billed in Luanda as "the final war for peace" in late 1998.

A year later, the offensive forced Mr. Savimbi to abandon UNITA's traditional strongholds in Angola's Central Highlands. He had been on the run since then.