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Angola's Chance at Peace

Civil war has been raging mostly nonstop in Angola for more than 25 years, making it the longest, and among the bloodiest, civil wars on earth. But the recent death of the government's main rival could bring peace.


Happier times: Jonas Savimbi (right) and Jose Eduardo dos Santos (left) after peace in 1995

With his main opponent dead, Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos said it is time to talk peace.

The central African country has had the longest civil war on the continent, raging between the Angolan government and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (Unitas) since independence from Portugal in 1974.

Last week, Unitas leader Jonas Savimbi was killed by Angolan troops, removing the charismatic head of dos Santos’ most dangerous rival.

The result has been a call for peace and new elections.

Speaking after a meeting with Portugese President Jorge Sampaio in Lisbon on Monday Santos told reporters he wanted to "take rapid steps for a normalization of politics in Angola, starting naturally with a search for the paths that will lead us, with urgency, to a ceasefire."

Portugal has been the European Union's main representative in the troubled region, offering to mediate peace talks.

A well-financed war

Promises of peace are nothing new for the wrecked African nation. Fighting has stopped four times since 1975.

In 1994, an internationally-brokered peace accord integrated former Unitas members into the government and armed forces. But a new government in 1997 lasted only one year before plunging, again, into civil war.

An estimated 200 people die every day from the effects of war, mostly starvation and poverty, according to aid agencies. The government has been unable to reap the rewards of its rich oil reserves.

Most of the billions received for oil exports each year go to finance the war. Savimbi's rebels are themselves well-equipped, supporting their war machine by selling more than $4 billion in diamonds over the last decade, according to reports.

The money has allowed Unitas to involve themselves in neighboring African nations, supporting a Congolese rebel movement that has been fighting the Congolese government since 1998.

Death of Savimbi brings hope for Africa

Delegates at Congolese peace talks in South Africa on Monday said Savimbi's death could be a good thing for their peace initiatives as well.

"We know that Savimbi hleped support rebels in Congo, so his death will contribute to the settling of the situation in our country," Masimangu Katandu, a Congolese bishop, told Reuters.

Whether it brings a settling of the situation in Angola remains to be seen. The Unitas representatives have been ready for talks in the past, but dos Santos' comments on Monday were met with anger.

The president's comments were "a deceitful conversation - aimed at misleading the international community," Unitas Lisbon spokesman Carlos Morgado told Reuters.

"Really, in the past as well as today, the one who wants war is President dos Santos," he said.

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