Angola, rebels sign cease-fire agreement

Angola’s government and the UNITA rebel group signed a cease-fire agreement Thursday as a first step toward ending the country’s protracted civil war, The Associated Press (AP).

Rebel and government leaders signed the pact in a ceremony at the Parliament in Luanda, as white flags flew outside, the AP reported. The government declared Friday a national holiday to celebrate the agreement.

The deal includes a pledge by the foes to abide by the terms of a 1994 peace accord that collapsed almost four years ago, the government reportedly said. The sides are to hold further talks on issues relating to the peace process.

Three previous peace deals-signed in 1975, 1991 and 1994-all unraveled.

The resumption of peace talks followed the army’s slaying on Feb. 22 of UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi, who had commanded the group’s struggle for power for more than 30 years.

The civil war, which began after the southwest African country’s 1975 independence from Portugal, is believed to have killed at least 500,000 people. Roughly 4 million people-about a third of the population-have been driven from their homes by the fighting and most of them are dependent on foreign aid.

The full terms of the cease-fire have not been published, the AP reported. However, the government says it includes the demobilization of about 50,000 UNITA soldiers, as well as their families, which is scheduled to begin on Monday.

The United Nations is to monitor the demobilization at 27 regional centers, the AP reported. The government says it will take between four and nine months to integrate the rebels into society.

The cease-fire was negotiated during two weeks of talks in Luena, a city in eastern Angola. Only state media were given access to the talks.

The government army captured or killed dozens of UNITA’s senior officers early this year before tracking down Savimbi in a remote part of eastern Angola.

UNITA’s secretary-general Paulo Lukamba Gato heads a committee of rebel military commanders who have assumed the group’s interim leadership.

President Jose Eduardo dos Santos says he wants to organize national elections as soon as possible, the AP reported.

The government financed its war effort through the sale of offshore oil resources. Angola is sub-Saharan Africa’s largest oil producer after Nigeria and is one of the world’s foremost oil exploration areas.

UNITA-a Portuguese acronym for the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola-sold diamonds on the black market to buy weapons.