Luanda - Angolan rebel leader Jonas Savimbi fought until the very end, army officials have said, detailing their final battle with the man who led his forces through almost 27 years of civil war.

Savimbi was killed on Friday together with 21 of his bodyguards, all with weapons in hand, on the banks of the Luvuei River in the eastern province of Moxico, Brigadier General Simao Carlitos Wala told the official Jornal de Angola.

"Savimbi decided to rest. Confident, as always, he had nonethless placed his units on alert.

"Too late - we already had surprised them. He fought back with gunfire, and that's why he was killed," said Wala, who led the army in the battle that killed Savimbi.

"We nailed him seven times. He tried to resist with his gun, but then he was dead," Wala told state radio.

Savimbi was shot 15 times - in the throat, head, torso, legs and arms, state media said.

Wala said Savimbi's battle plan had failed because he had lost radio communication, following an army offensive dubbed Kissonde, named after an aggressive ant.

"He only had a small ground to air radio.

"This factor blocked any chance Savimbi had to get some security from parallel units, which would have allowed him to cross a stretch of the river up at the border," Wala said.

He did not say whether Savimbi had planned to cross into Zambia, but the Jornal de Angola cited army officials as saying he had planned to go to the Zambian border, where a unit of his rebels "were waiting to guide and defend him".

Wala's lengthy interviews with state media provided the most detailed account yet on the circumstances surrounding the fate of the veteran rebel leader, who died after spending most of the last 40 years in armed conflict in the country.

The Jornal de Angola, the only newspaper printed in the nation, ran a 10-page special issue on Sunday on Savimbi's death.

Army soldiers had waged a tough battle to penetrate deeply enough into the rebel forces' stronghold to reach Savimbi and the guards who surrounded him, Wala said.

Savimbi had used his gun in a vain attempt to stave off the army attack, only 80km from the Zambian border, Wala said.

"Savimbi knew the area very well. He was like a fish in water," Wala said.

The army had managed to target Savimbi because two of his most important military leaders, known as Brigadier Mbule and Big Joy, had already been killed, Wala said.

The two men had led the elite units of Savimbi's National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (Unita), which were responsible for creating diversions aimed at disrupting army operations, Wala said.

One of Savimbi's wives, Catarina Savimbi, had been seriously injured in the attack and taken to a clinic in Luena, Moxico's capital, for treatment, the newspaper said.

Savimbi was buried on Saturday in Lucusse, under a tree near where he was killed, the Jornal de Angola said. - Sapa-AFP