- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 3, 2002

LUANDA, Angola (Agence France-Presse) Angola's UNITA rebels yesterday formally disbanded their military wing and laid down their arms, ending the 27-year civil war that has torn the country since independence from Portugal.

At a ceremony bringing to an end one of the longest conflicts on the African continent, government and rebel officials announced the formal end of the rebellion that had been in the works since a peace deal signed in April.

"We have entered a new era," Angolan Defense Minister Gen. Kundi Pahyama said. "From now on, the conditions have come together for stability in Angola."

Former rebel commander Gen. Abreu Kamorteiro said: "Under our peace accord, we will never again take up arms against the republic of Angola."

Jonas Savimbi, the charismatic leader of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), was shot dead by government troops in February, speeding the way for an end to the brutal civil war.

Around 5,000 of the roughly 85,000 UNITA soldiers will gradually be absorbed into the Angolan army. The remainder will return to civilian life with the assistance of a government program to help them find jobs.

The troops have been gathered in 35 demobilization camps across the country together with about 300,000 of their family members since the peace deal, many subsisting in appalling conditions without adequate food and medicines.

UNITA officials said last month that around 500 people had died of famine in the camps.

The civil war left at least half a million people dead and forced about 4 million civilians to flee their homes and seek refuge either abroad or elsewhere in the country.

Mr. Savimbi began his uprising against the Luanda government almost immediately after the oil-rich southwest African state won its independence from Portugal in 1975.

The April peace accord was the fourth agreement between UNITA and the government since the war began, but international observers have suggested it could hold this time in the absence of the rebel leader.

He was shot dead in a gunbattle with government troops in late February and his likely successor, Gen. Antonio Dembo, was also killed.

The peace deal in theory prepares the way for nationwide elections, which President Jose Eduardo dos Santos has said could come next year or in 2004. UNITA officials have said they could make a strong showing at the polls.

The nation's first and only multiparty elections were held in 1992, following a deal brokered by the United Nations, Portugal, Russia and the United States.

But Mr. Savimbi refused to accept his election defeat and plunged the nation back into war.

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