JOHANNESBURG — The remains of a former Angolan rebel commander were repatriated from South Africa on Thursday in an effort by Angolan President Joao Lourenco to reconcile with the opposition.
South African and Angolan officials presided over a ceremony at the Waterkloof air force base for Arlindo Chenda Pena, who died of an illness in South Africa in 1998.
Pena, known as "Ben Ben," was a rebel commander in UNITA, whose Portuguese acronym means the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola. He was also a nephew of UNITA chief Jonas Savimbi, whose death in a 2002 clash with government forces signaled the end of Angola's civil war.
In the mid-1990s, Pena had a senior post in Angola's national army during a fragile peace process. UNITA became the main opposition party after the war.
The repatriation of Pena will contribute to national unity in Angola, said Francisco Queiroz, Angola's minister of justice and human rights. He spoke at the repatriation ceremony before a coffin with Pena's remains was transferred to a plane for the trip home.
Lourenco, a former defense minister, became president last year after elections in which longtime leader Jose Eduardo dos Santos did not run. The ruling MPLA, or Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, has held power since independence from Portugal in 1975.
Lourenco has taken steps to distance his administration from the dos Santos era, pledging to fight corruption. UNITA has questioned how far Lourenco will go to clean up the government in a country that is desperately poor despite its oil wealth.
The opposition party alleged fraud in last year's elections and mounted a court challenge that failed.