Hopes of ending Africa's longest-running civil war rose yesterday when the Angolan government announced it was ready to respect a nationwide ceasefire once its military commanders met those of Jonas Savimbi's Unita movement.
Top military officers of Mr Savimbi's National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (Unita) left Angola yesterday for the Zambian capital, Lusaka, the site of 11 months of peace talks, according to United Nations sources. Unita claimed that Mr Savimbi will arrive in Lusaka tomorrow for the signing of a peace deal with his rival, President Jose Eduardo dos Santos. Twenty- five heads of state are also expected to attend.
The final signature of the accord appeared in jeopardy last wee when government troops captured the Unita stronghold of Huambo, the central highlands city and symbolic capital of the Umbundu people, who mainly support Unita. Mr Savimbi's officers had repeatedly warned that if the government captured Huambo, they would pull out of the talks.
"Unita's problem is that they have little choice but to sign," said a Western diplomatic source involved in the peace talks. "In the short term, if they do not reach a peace agreement now, it could be back to the bush for the next 20 years."
The government offensive continued at the weekend, with the state radio claiming the fall of the Unita-controlled town of Mbanza Congo, capital of Zaire province, leaving the northern town of Uige as the only significant town still under rebel control.
Since refusing to accept Mr Savimbi's defeat in the September 1992 elections, Unita's military fortunes have been on a rollercoaster. At first the rebels captured up to 80 per cent of the country as the government army ollapsed. But by late last year, UN Security Council sanctions began to hamper the rebels' supplies.
The government army was revitalised under armed forces chief of staff General Joao de Matos and bolstered by an estimated $3. …