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Angolan officials display body of dead rebel leader Savimbi

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LUANDA, Angola (AP) _ The government displayed the body of Jonas Savimbi, the leader of Angola's UNITA rebels who was killed in a gunbattle with the army, and appealed to his followers Saturday to end the civil war that began in the mid-1970s.

The government said it hoped for an end to the civil war that has devastated this southwest African nation now that the rebel movement had lost the man who led it without question since its founding and who was blamed for wrecking peace efforts three times in the 1990s.

Footage of the body of Savimbi was broadcast on state-owned Televisao Popular de Angola, filmed in a remote village near where he was killed by the army on Friday.

The body _ in combat fatigues apparently stained by blood, eyes half open _ was clearly recognizable as that of the 67-year-old Savimbi. It was placed on a makeshift table beneath a tree with soldiers looking on.

What appeared to be a gunshot wound was visible on Savimbi's neck. Otherwise his face was undamaged, contrary to earlier reports that the body was ridden with 15 bullet wounds and unrecognizable

UNITA officials, who are hidden in the bush of this nation twice the size of Texas, were not available for comment on Savimbi's death or the government's call on rebels to surrender.

Savimbi has led UNITA, a Portuguese acronym for the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, since he founded it 36 years ago. Since Angola's independence from Portugal in 1975, he has battled to take power.

During the Cold War, he was a proxy for the United States against the then-Marxist government. But after the fall of the Soviet Union, Savimbi lost international support for rejecting peace efforts, and the government of President Jose Eduardo dos Santos moved closer to the United States. Savimbi had not been seen for several years.

The war is believed to have killed about 500,000 people, though there are no confirmed figures. About 4 million people _ roughly one-third of the population _ have been driven from their homes by the fighting, creating a humanitarian crisis. Human rights groups claim both sides have committed atrocities.

After the announcement of Savimbi's death, the government said it was ready to implement fully a failed 1994 peace accord that called for regular democratic elections. Dos Santos travels to Washington to meet President Bush on Monday.

The television report said the army chased Savimbi, and a group of rebel soldiers accompanying him, across two rivers in the Moxico region. The army cornered Savimbi next to the second river and targeted him with heavy fire. The report said 21 other UNITA soldiers were killed with Savimbi, including two generals.

Savimbi's body was taken to Lucusse, about 480 miles east of the capital, Luanda, where officials said it would be buried.

His wife, identified as Catarina, was wounded in the clash and was taken to a nearby hospital, the report said without elaborating. Savimbi is believed to have had several wives.

In Luanda, residents honked car horns and soldiers fired rounds of ammunition into the air in celebration. But not all were convinced an end to the war was at hand.

``It's not peace yet. We've still got to get the others who support'' Savimbi, said Luzia Caifalo, a 46-year-old nurse.

Foreign Minister Joao Miranda informed the United Nations representative in Angola and the ambassadors of the United States, Russia and Portugal of the rebel chief's death.

Mussagi Jeichande, the U.N. representative, said he regretted Savimbi's killing but added, ``We have to see this, probably, as the beginning of the end of Angola's war.''

The foreign minister said government troops would continue to hunt down rebel units and force them to hand over their weapons. UNITA is thought to have several thousand troops. Angola is ideal terrain for guerrilla warfare.

Hermann Hannekon of the Africa Institute of South Africa, an academic research group, said the main concern if Savimbi has died is that UNITA may break up into lawless armed gangs which could menace civilians in remote areas.

In recent years UNITA has used land mines and ambushes to disrupt normal life outside Angola's main cities.

It was not clear whether anyone from UNITA's ranks could replace Savimbi. UNITA vice president Antonio Dembo, as well as Savimbi's close aide Paulo Lukamba Gato, are believed to be hiding out in rural Angola.

UNITA is thought to have a stockpile of diamonds, sold on the international black market, which have allowed it to keep fighting despite U.N. oil and arms sanctions.

The government has financed its war through offshore oil production.

Savimbi's animosity to dos Santos, who has ruled since 1977, has repeatedly thwarted attempts by the international community to end the war. Savimbi broke a peace deal after losing 1992 elections.

After a 4-year peace deal collapsed in 1998, the army routed UNITA from its main strongholds over the past year.

Angola's civil war first erupted after the country's 1975 independence from Portugal.

The MPLA, emboldened by Cuban military might, launched an offensive that drove Savimbi and his UNITA guerrillas deep into the bush, in what became known as the movement's fabled ``Long March.''

UNITA began to receive the support of South African troops and CIA covert aid. Touted as a key ally against communism, Savimbi was received as a head of state by President Reagan at the White House in 1986. UNITA grew to more than 60,000 men, but always lacked the MPLA's air power.

After the breakup of the Soviet Union, the Angolan government dropped its Marxist policies and moved closer to the United States, prompting U.S. oil companies to invest billions of dollars in the country.
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