OCTOBER 7, 1994
LISBON, Portugal (AP) -- Jonas Savimbi, who has led a rebellion against successive Angolan governments since the 1960s, has dropped from sight.
The Angolan government is starting to think the 54-year-old rebel is dead or has fled the southern African nation. His rebel movement, UNITA, says reports of his death are lies, but has offered no proof he is in good health.
Nothing has been heard from Savimbi for two months. None of the outsiders who habitually have contact with him -- diplomats, aid officials, and U.N. workers -- have reported sighting him or speaking with him since midsummer. Nor has the booming voice of the normally spotlight-hungry Savimbi been heard on rebel radio.
His condition could be key to Angola's future: Many Angolans believe the civil war which has laid waste to their land and killed half a million of their countrymen will end with Savimbi's death.
Savimbi launched UNITA -- the Portuguese acronym for the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola -- in 1962 as an 11-man guerrilla force aimed at overthrowing Portuguese colonial rule.
After Portugal granted Angola independence 13 years later in 1975, UNITA continued fighting, this time against a rival guerrilla army that had seized power and became the country's government.
With the backing of South African troops and U.S. guns and money, UNITA battled on for 16 more years against the then-Marxist Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, which had the support of Cuba and the Soviet Union.
A treaty was signed in 1991. But 18 months later, after Savimbi had lost democratic elections and cried fraud, war resumed.
In the past two years UNITA, now some 50,000 strong, has seized more than half the country at the cost of some 150,000 lives and widespread famine. The government has responded with both fighting and diplomacy: 10 months of peace talks, backed by repeated bombings of rebel headquarters in the central Angolan city of Huambo.
State radio sparked a riot in the capital last week with an announcement that Savimbi had been killed in a bombing attack. The wild celebration turned into a witch hunt of suspected UNITA supporters, and at least six people were killed. Even then, Savimbi kept silent.
Then Paulo Jorge, governor of a province near rebel-held territory, said UNITA deserters told him Savimbi had been attacked by his own men and was slowly dying in a Moroccan hospital.
An anonymous voice refuted the story on rebel radio, but again no word from Savimbi. "We are not going to deny Paulo Jorge his dream. We are simply going to say that he does not have the standing to make comments on UNITA president Dr. Jonas Malheiro Savimbi's life," said the unnamed broadcaster.
Belshor Kanguaia, a UNITA representative in London, said the rumors were lies spread by the government to weaken rebel resistance.
"They know Dr. Savimbi is a strong and very charismatic man and naturally they fear him," Kanguaia said. But he acknowledged he hadn't actually spoken to Savimbi in quite some time.
A meeting last week in Angola between Savimbi and UNICEF director Vincent O'Neill, which Kanguaia offered as proof of his leader's continued existence, never took place, according to O'Neill.
"No, we went last week to Huambo and met with humanitarian aid coordinators, but we had no contact with Savimbi, and his name never came up," O'Neill told The Associated Press by telephone from Luanda, the Angolan capital.
There are other teasers, too, in the mystery, like a UNITA communique saying UNITA Gen. Arlindo "Ben-Ben" Pena, not Savimbi, would give the order for a rebel cease-fire, and the fact that the rebels suddenly dropped demands for a government post for Savimbi.
If he is still alive, what is Savimbi's game?
Since he disappeared about the time government troops began gaining ground, it could be that the master guerrilla strategist is preparing a dramatic comeback to once again rally his forces.
LUANDA, Angola (AP) -- Government and rebel troops clashed in almost half of Angola's 18 provinces Wednesday, reinforcing skepticism about a 2-day-old peace plan. On Monday, U.N. special envoy Alouine Blondin Beye announced that government and rebel negotiators in Lusaka, Zambia, had shaken hands on a plan to end Angola's 19-year-old civil war.
Beye planned to press for rapid implementation of the peace plan in a meeting Friday with President Jose Eduardo dos Santos and in a later session with UNITA rebel leaders, Foreign Minister Venancio de Moura said.
Rebel artillery and ground troops were pushing through southern Benguela, Bie and Huila provinces toward the main swath of government-held territory along the coast, a government military official said.
Government forces, meanwhile, were bearing down on rebel headquarters in the central city of Huambo, the official said on condition of anonymity.
The National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, or UNITA, was formed in 1962 as an 11-man guerrilla band bent on toppling Portuguese colonizers. It turned its weapons against the rival guerrilla army that seized power after independence in 1975.
Peace accords signed in May 1991 broke down 18 months later and fighting resumed when UNITA lost democratic elections. More than 500,000 Angolans have died in the war, but neither side has gained a military advantage.
On Wednesday, the rebels' clandestine Vorgan radio said government MiG fighter jets had bombed villages in Luena and Lunda, two eastern provinces that had been spared bloodshed.
Officials from both sides said hopes for peace were premature.
UNITA spokesman Manuel Costa said rebel leaders would convene this week to discuss the U.N. plan, which he called "a first step that can easily be withdrawn."
"Until there is a calendar for unification, a military accord and a guarantee for security from the international community, very little has changed," Costa told The Associated Press.
Gen. Higino Carneiro, the government's chief negotiator in Lusaka, told Portuguese TSF radio that until the many remaining issues are settled, the government "will respond with appropriate military force to any provocation."
Beye said the agreement included a cease-fire, the withdrawal and disarming of rebels and creation of a new national army with soldiers from both sides.
Under the proposed treaty, a U.N. multilateral force would provide security and the government and rebels would share power. The size of the U.N. force was not specified.
The absence of any public comment by UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi cast further doubt about the peace plan. Savimbi has not been seen or heard publicly for about three months.
Recent reports that the 54-year-old rebel chief had been treated on the western African island of Sao Tome for injuries suffered in an explosion were untrue, presidential spokesman Gabriel Costa told The Associated Press.