LUANDA – Angola’s main opposition party, the former rebel movement Unita, said on Wednesday it planned to go ahead with a public funeral for its former leader Jonas Savimbi this weekend after a dispute with the government over the handling of his remains.
Savimbi, a charismatic, controversial warlord who fought Angola’s socialist government in a 27-year civil war, was killed in a battle against the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) government forces in February 2002.
His death paved the way for a peace deal bringing an end to one of Africa’s longest and bloodiest conflicts, which erupted after Angola’s independence from Portugal in 1975.
Unita had long called for the MPLA, which has governed Angola since independence, to allow his body to be exhumed and given a “dignified” burial.
After a meeting on Wednesday between Savimbi’s family and Unita, the party had “decided to maintain its programme” for the burial on Saturday, Unita spokesman Alcides Sakala Simoes told Us.
“We are calling for calm,” Simoes said, adding the burial will be an important moment to help in “the construction of a national reconciliation”.
Savimbi’s son, Cheya Savimbi, confirmed the burial will take place on Saturday.
After negotiations, the government had planned to hand over the remains of the former rebel chief on Tuesday to allow the body to be buried in his native village on Saturday.
But the remains were not handed over, sparking accusations from both sides.
The government said the family and Unita delegation did not show up as arranged in Luena in Moxico province. But the family delegation was waiting in Kuito, around 400 kilometres away where they said the meeting had been arranged.
The government says the body was transported on Tuesday to Andulo, a village near where the Savimbi funeral was planned.
“We left the body in the military barracks” in Andulo, said Pedro Sebastiao, head of security for president Joao Lourenco, urging Unita to collect it as soon as possible.
The family said the government had changed the programme but said they did not want any “conflict” over the burial.