LUANDA, Angola — Rebels vowed Sunday to continue their longtime struggle in Angola despite the death of their founder and leader, Jonas Savimbi, but said the government could open a path to peace by declaring a cease-fire.
Savimbi, 67, was confirmed dead by his National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, or UNITA, late Saturday after television networks showed his bullet-riddled body. He was killed by government troops.
"Anyone who thinks the ideals of UNITA died with its leader is mistaken," the group said in a statement.
Savimbi's death has fueled hopes for peace among Angolans battered by a decades-old civil war that has killed at least half a million people and left millions more homeless.
The death of Savimbi is expected to touch off a power struggle within UNITA that could splinter it into rival factions. Analysts say a quick end to one of Africa's longest-running wars is unlikely.
Though calling for peace, the UNITA statement made no mention of heeding an Angolan government call to surrender. UNITA's leadership has repeatedly spurned government offers for a pardon and demanded fresh peace talks.
Carlos Morgado, a UNITA spokesman in Portugal, the former colonial ruler in Angola, was quoted by the Lisbon newspaper Publico as saying that "the ball is now with [Angolan President] Jose Eduardo dos Santos."
"If he declares a cease-fire, obviously we have a path open that we did not have before," he added.
The comments came as Dos Santos left for Portugal en route to the U.S. to present his plans for securing an end to the war. He is to meet with President Bush on Tuesday.
The army says it is still pursuing rebel units. In a statement after Savimbi's death, the government urged UNITA fighters to surrender.
The Portuguese Foreign Ministry urged the Angolan government to call a cease-fire and said UNITA should join in negotiations to map out the country's political future.