GBADOLITE, Zaire — A 14-year-long impasse in the Angolan civil war was broken Thursday night when Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos and anti-Communist rebel leader Jonas Savimbi agreed to a formal cease-fire and promised to open peace talks on a government of national reconciliation.
It was the first time that Dos Santos, an avowed Marxist, and Savimbi, president of the U.S.-backed National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), have met to try to negotiate an end to the war that has cost hundreds of thousands of lives and paralyzed the potentially wealthy former Portuguese colony.
The cease-fire, to take effect at midnight tonight, was part of a declaration issued at the end of a one-day summit meeting of 18 African leaders, called to help resolve one of the region's bloodiest conflicts.
Dos Santos and Savimbi sealed the agreement with a symbolic handshake. Details of the peace framework remained sketchy Thursday night.
President Moussa Traore of Mali, chairman of the Organization of African Unity, described the meeting at the luxury villa of Zairean President Mobutu Sese Seko as the beginning of a new era for Africa.
"The handshake symbolizes as from June 24 the end of civil war in Angola," Traore said.
Angola and UNITA have declared cease-fires before, but Mobutu, who hosted the summit to follow up a first regional meeting of African leaders on Angolan peace in May, said, "This time it's more serious."
He also said that Savimbi's future was an issue that came up only at the summit's end. "These are really only questions of details," he said.
Some reports have suggested that Savimbi, whose South African- and U.S.-backed forces control large areas of Marxist Angola, might leave the country temporarily and abandon politics.
The declared cease-fire in the Angolan civil war comes only weeks after Namibian rebels based in southern Angola ended a 17-year bush war with South Africa as part of a peace plan for the territory.
Independence elections in Africa's last colony are scheduled to take place under United Nations supervision in November.
The U.S.-brokered Namibian peace deal also called for the withdrawal from Angola of 50,000 Cuban soldiers supporting the Luanda government in its fight against UNITA.
Thursday's declaration ending the summit in Gbadolite said that the next meeting of the African leaders on Angola will be held in Zimbabwe "in the very near future."
The declaration also said that all Angolans will work for national reconciliation and that Mobutu will head a commission to monitor the overall progress toward peace.
"I hope this summit will create the basis for a return to peace in Angola," Mobutu told a news conference.
Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda, acting as spokesman for the summit, said after more than four hours of talks: "The heads of state of this summit . . . can now convey a message of hope to Angola for peace, eternal peace, unity and development."
In Pretoria, a spokesman for South African Foreign Minister Roelof F. (Pik) Botha said that, while proper peace initiatives are always welcome, the government wants more official information on the Angolan talks before commenting.
In an indication of the apparent success of the summit, Savimbi and Dos Santos sat near each other for a group photograph at Mobutu's villa.
Their meeting marked a major diplomatic coup for Mobutu, who is due to visit Washington later this month.
"I have come in a spirit of openness," Savimbi, wearing a gray Mao-style jacket and carrying a swagger stick, said earlier when he arrived at this northern Zairean town, Mobutu's ancestral home.
Savimbi's presence had been in doubt until the last minute. He and Dos Santos had both made statements earlier this week suggesting they did not intend to meet here.
Apart from Mobutu, Dos Santos, Traore and Kaunda, other leaders attending the summit were: President Ibrahim Babangida of Nigeria and the heads of state of Burundi, Chad, Central African Republic, Rwanda, Botswana, Mozambique, Gabon, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Cameroon, Sao Tome e Principe, Congo and Zimbabwe. Morocco and Tanzania sent lower-level officials.