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Sunday, 31 March, 2002, 02:47 GMT 03:47 UK
Angola moves closer to peace
General Kamorteiro, head of Unita armed forces (centre) at the signing
The signing precedes an official ceasefire agreement
The Angolan army has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Unita rebel movement, paving the way to a formal ceasefire after 27 years of civil war.

It's obvious from the spirit we've seen here and the way this is evolving that this is something that comes from within the Angolans themselves

Christopher Dell
US ambassador
Military officers representing both sides of the bitter conflict embraced after the signing ceremony in the town of Luena, about 770 kilometres (480 miles) south-east of the capital, Luanda.

The US ambassador to Angola, Christopher Dell, predicted that real peace was finally in sight as both sides had come to the table freely and neither side felt the agreement had been imposed on it.

But some doubts remain given divisions within the rebels after the recent death of their veteran leader, Jonas Savimbi, and the battle for control of Angola's lucrative diamond trade.

Angolan refugee children at transit centre
Millions have been displaced by the fighting
The memorandum came after two weeks of secretive and at times controversial negotiations in Luena, the BBC's Justin Pearce reports from the town.

"The two sides pledge to put an end to hostilities and restore peace throughout Angolan territory," it reads.

Detailed plans were worked out for demobilising 50,000 Unita soldiers in preparation for their integration into the army.

A formal ceasefire is due to be signed between the government and Unita in Luanda on 4 April.

"It's obvious from the spirit we've seen here and the way this is evolving that this is something that comes from within the Angolans themselves," said Ambassador Dell.

Angola's war
Erupted after 14-year war of independence from Portugal
At least 500,000 deaths
Whole towns reduced to ruins
A third of the country's 12 million people thought to have been displaced

"I am certain that this act will re-establish definitive peace in Angola," said General Abreu Muengo Ucuatchitembo "Kamorteiro", Unita's commander-in-chief.

The agreement was signed in the presence of representatives of the United Nations, the United States, Russia and the former colonial power, Portugal.

But diplomats and government officials in South Africa have warned that real peace will not come until Unita signs the formal ceasefire in Luanda with President Eduardo dos Santos.

"The big action day will be April 4 when the ceasefire is formally signed to end the war," one government official told Reuters news agency.

Smuggled diamonds

There have been rumours of a power struggle within Unita between the military chief Kamorteiro and Paulo Lukamba "Gato", seen by many as the natural successor to Savimbi who was killed by government troops in February.

Gato, known as a hardliner, was not present at Saturday's ceremony because of his "tight schedule", one Unita official said.

The BBC's Hilary Andersson also reports that Unita's trade in smuggled diamonds means some people still have an incentive to continue the war.

The memorandum came only a day after Unita rebels reportedly killed 15 people near the coastal city of Benguela.

The BBC's Hilary Andersson
"This is an extremely significant moment"
See also:

31 Mar 02 | Africa
Angola: One step from peace
27 Mar 02 | Africa
Angola rebels back truce talks
25 Feb 02 | Country profiles
Timeline: Angola
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