Gorongoza, Mozambique - Twenty years after laying down weapons, Mozambican civil war commander Afonso Dhlakama has told AFP he is willing to provoke a fresh bloodbath and to divide the country if the government does not meet his demands.
In an exclusive interview from his base deep in the Mozambican bush, where he has gathered several hundred armed supporters, the former anti-communist guerrilla vowed a return to violence if the government does not share the country's wealth and reform the electoral system.
“I am training my men up and, if we need to, we will leave here and destroy Mozambique,” said Dhlakama, who directed an insurgency against the Frelimo government that resulted in the death of one million Mozambicans between 1977 and 1992.
Stressing that he wants a peaceful solution, Dhlakama nevertheless warned he was not scared of derailing the country's economic boom: “If it is necessary we can go backwards. We prefer a poor country than to have people eating from our pot.”
Mozambique's brutal civil war ended in 1992 with Dhlakama and now President Armando Guebuza agreeing the Rome General Peace Accords, which paved the way for Mozambique's now stellar resource-fuelled growth.
Dhlakama has long been disgruntled, and it is unclear if he can or will make good on his threats, but after 20 years of “patience”, he insists his former Renamo guerrillas have had enough of the government's “robbery” of the country's resources.
“We want to say to Guebuza, ‘You are eating well. We want to eat well too’.”
As well as a bigger share of Mozambique's expected coal and gas windfall, Dhlakama wants an overhaul of the electoral system to prevent alleged fraud.
Renamo is still the official opposition with 51 seats out of 250 in parliament, but their support has been dwindling since 1999.
To lend weight to his demands, the 62-year-old veteran fighter has coupled a motley collection of former comrades in arms with AK-47 rifles.
In the shadow of Mount Gorongoza, they receive weapons training and run military drills while guarding their leader, believing the ruling party will hire assassins to eliminate him.
“We have to wait a little but we are waiting for the moment we can finish what we started,” said ex-fighter Armindo Milaco.
Mozambique today is a very different country from what it was 20 years ago.
Where there were once Cold War-fuelled military reconnaissance flights, businessmen now shuttle to and from the capital and the coal-boom towns of the north on private jets.
And another set of boom towns are springing up. US energy firm Anadarko intends to invest as much as $15-billion in the next five years in order to be able to export natural gas.
Mozambique's government is eager to prove these investments are safe.
Damiao Jose, a spokesperson for the ruling Frelimo party, said the government was open to dialogue, but had yet to receive any formal demands.
“When he moves armed men around, this intimidates people - not just people living on farms but investors too. It is not good for this country,” said Jose.
“Mr Dhlakama has the telephone number of the president of the Republic. Why doesn't he use it?”
While initially demanding his former civil war opponents come to the bush to meet him face to face, Dhlakama now says he will rebuff Guebuza even if he attempts talks, saying such meetings have been a sham in the past.
“I am not a child to be tricked. He wants to come again to pretend, so the world can say, 'They met. The problem is solved’.”
Instead, Dhlakama wants the Southern African Development Community regional bloc to intervene.
He also wants more of his former fighters incorporated into national armed forces, saying he is “fed up” with the discrimination against his members in every sphere of life.
Dhlakama insists that if his demands are met there will be no bloodshed, but if not, the country could be divided.
“The situation cannot go on like this. We are thinking of asking for the country to be divided. Frelimo will have the south and we will have the centre and north.”
According to Joseph Hanlon, a UK-based political analyst and author of several books on Mozambique, Dhlakama's threats are likely just bluster, aimed at regaining some of his significantly depleted political power.
“Dhlakama's failure was that he never organised a political party and therefore never succeeded in mobilising voters.”
“He has no power anymore. He hasn’t got a base anymore.”
But there is little doubt that Dhlakama's decision to return to Renamo's first military base invokes powerful memories for Mozambicans of a painful war they would rather forget.
As yet, no one can be sure of Dhlakama's intentions or the government's response.
But the born-again rebel is adamant things must change.
“My ambition is to clean up things politically. Then I can die in peace.” - Sapa-AFP