- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 26, 2002

Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos meets President Bush today, with prospects for an end to Angola's civil war radically transformed by the battlefield death of rebel leader Jonas Savimbi.

The meeting was originally planned as a session on regional peace in Central Africa, where six nations are involved in a separate civil war in Congo.

But with Mr. Savimbi killed in battle Friday, the focus is likely to shift to Angola.

Also attending the meeting will be President Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique and President Festus Mogae of Botswana.

Before leaving for the United States and his meeting with the American president, Mr. dos Santos called yesterday for a cease-fire.

The conflict in Angola, which has raged for 30 years, is Africa's longest-running civil war.

"We intend to establish bridges so that a cease-fire, which will permit the demilitarization of UNITA, can be established as soon as possible," Mr. dos Santos told reporters after meeting Portuguese counterpart Jorge Sampaio in Lisbon. Mr. dos Santos leads the ruling MPLA, or Movement for the Liberation of Angola.

Mr. Savimbi's UNITA the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola was expected to delay a response while it selects a new leader.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher yesterday called "upon both sides, in conjunction with the peaceful opposition, civil sectors and the international community, to fulfill their obligation to bring peace to the Angolan people."

In choosing a successor to Mr. Savimbi, UNITA is likely to encounter several obstacles. The group has known no leader other than Mr. Savimbi, an authoritarian but spellbinding spokesman who stood for the poorer Angolans while the government became the party of the middle class and well-to-do.

In line to replace Mr. Savimbi is Antonio Bembo, secretary-general of the movement. Unlike Mr. Savimbi, who was a member of the Ovimbundu ethnic group, Mr. Bembo is from a different tribe.

Also, there is a more moderate faction, UNITA Renovodo (Reformed), that sits in the parliament in Luanda and is now likely to expand its influence.

Evaristo Jose, spokesman for the Angolan Embassy in Washington, said "the situation today offers the greatest hope for national reconciliation" and "a historic opening to end the bloodletting."

Civil war has afflicted Angola since it won independence from Portgual in 1975. Three major guerrilla movements and a few smaller ones took to the field against the colonial power 14 years before that. The long internal conflict has consumed an estimated 1.5 million lives.

The fight has deeply scarred Angola, a country almost twice the size of Texas and rich in minerals and oil reserves.

Since 1966, Angolan rebel chief Mr. Savimbi had attracted major international support in his fight for one cause or another from China for his anti-colonialism and from the United States and South Africa for his anti-communism.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, he fought for democratic pluralism and embarked on a new ideological war financed with Angolan diamonds.

Mr. dos Santos responded by courting the international community with the claim that he had abandoned Marxism.

Several times Angola has tried to go the cease-fire, military decommissioning route, hoping that these moves would be capped by a free and fair election.

When Mr. Savimbi faced defeat at the polls in 1992, he rejected the results and returned to the bush to continue the war.

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