Angolan rebel leader Jonas Savimbi - charismatic, elusive, and stubborn - was never one to compromise. The man who was often quoted as saying "either I succeed or I die violently," walked away from peace negotiations, broke cease-fires, and helped perpetuate a 27- year civil war that has left half a million civilians dead and 4 million homeless. On Friday, he was shot down during fighting with government forces.
Savimbi's death leaves the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) without a leader or clear successor, adequate funding, or a known plan. This leads many observers to express optimism for a breakthrough peace agreement.
"As soon as I heard the news, my reaction was that Savimbi's death permits peace to break out in Angola," says Robert Rotberg, director of the program in interstate conflict at Harvard University's Kennedy School.
Pik Botha, a former South African foreign minister who supported Savimbi under South Africa's apartheid regime, said he expected a rapid settlement and was hopeful the Luanda government would oblige.
"Depending on how the Angolan government now reacts, this is perhaps the best opportunity - certainly since 1992 - to achieve successful solutions to peace," he told Reuters. "I am encouraged by the first reactions of the government not wanting to pursue this in such a way that UNITA followers feel humiliated."
Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos is to meet US President George Bush later this month in Washington. Western diplomats say the US government and the international community are encouraging Luanda to draft an inclusive peace agreement, under the framework of the moribund 1994 Lusaka protocol.
The government on Friday appealed to UNITA fighters to "reintegrate themselves into Angolan society so as to contribute to the consolidation of democracy and reconciliation."
Dr. Rotberg predicts most of Savimbi's lieutenants will try to cut deals with the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA).
"A few will hold out for a while, but with Savimbi's death, nothing holds them or their soldiers together," he says. "Savimbi had the funds and was the patron and mastermind. Nobody else remaining in the UNITA movement can command the loyalties of what now remains of UNITA."
The son of a railway stationmaster who studied medicine in Lisbon, political science in Switzerland, and guerrilla warfare in China, Savimbi spoke three African and four European languages.
He formed UNITA in 1966, amassing some 60,000 troops …