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Weakened UNITA may agree to 'cease hostilities'

The possible death of new UNITA leader General Antonio Dembo could lead to a cessation of hostilities between the rebel movement and the government's armed forces, UNITA spokesman Jaka Jamba told IRIN.

Speaking from Luanda, Jamba said Dembo's death so soon after that of longtime UNITA commander Dr Jonas Savimbi in February would further weaken the rebel faction remaining on the battlefield and could serve as a catalyst to the peace process.

"It happens that with this new reality, maybe it could create a momentum that if very well managed, could permit a truce and later on the negotiating of a ceasefire and other issues of the Lusaka Protocol (a peace blueprint agreed to in 1994)," he said.

"What we foresee, and it will prevail, is that now it is urgent that the war must be stopped and conditions must be created to do this, and to start with a cessation of hostilities and to negotiate a ceasefire, and later on to implement the other items of the Lusaka Protocol," he told IRIN.

What was needed, he said was a clear signal from the Angolan government that it would co-operate. He did not say what this signal might be.

Jamba was speaking as a mission of the Angolan Armed Forces (FAA) visited the eastern Moxico province to investigate a captured UNITA rebel's claims that he had buried Dembo after he died from injuries in the same battle in which Savimbi was killed. The mission was expected back in Luanda on Thursday.

Jamba said it was possible that Dembo was killed because he had always travelled with Savimbi and would probably have been close during the battle with FAA forces when Savimbi was killed.

Jamba said the (UNITA) permanent committee, which would be in charge of operations in the event of Dembo's death, had not communicated with their Luanda counterparts. It was possible he said, that they were being cautious, that they had lost their communication equipment or that some of them had also been killed.

Confusion over Dembo's death mounted on Wednesday, however, with news reports that FAA had intercepted a message sent from Dembo to UNITA's northern rebel command to cease offensive operations.

Lusa reported that Defense Minister Kundi Paihama told national radio that the message ordered a General Apolo to "contain" his forces, not to launch "offensive actions" and to "stay on the defensive". The report said Paihama did not disclose when the message was supposed to have been intercepted.

The defence minister said government forces were waiting to see whether the northern rebel front would cease hostilities, threatening to crush them if they did not. However, at least two UNITA offensives have been reported by FAA since Savimbi's death.

Jamba's talk of a cessation of hostilities between UNITA and FAA troops represented a change of heart from last week, when he told IRIN that certain conditions would have to be met before UNITA agreed to a ceasefire called for by Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos.

He had said then that UNITA representatives abroad must first be allowed to have talks with the United Nations and also called for the easing of UN imposed sanctions on UNITA.

On Tuesday, however, he told IRIN: "We think that the solution of UNITA's future is related also to the solution of the Angola conflict - that is if the other UNITA brothers in the bush can only join the political struggle ... we can organise this (UNITA) conference ... elect a new leadership and at the same time decide on a programme."

He said he understood that Savimbi had even been in touch with UNITA representatives abroad on the day he was killed, discussing an agenda for new talks to resume.

Meanwhile, according to Zel Sinclair, UNHCR protection officer for Angola, there has been no information to suggest mass population movements in the instability following Savimbi's death. "People are staying put," she told IRIN.

"We haven't noticed any big movements of people, there is some spontaneous movement that continues, but nothing that makes believe there has been a mass influx in or out (of any areas)."

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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