Maputo - The leader of Mozambique's revived rebel movement told AFP Thursday he could soon come out of hiding, raising hopes for an end to military skirmishes that have destabilised the country.
Speaking by telephone from an undisclosed location, Afonso Dhlakama said stop-start talks to end deadly battles with government forces were beginning to bear fruit and could result in him returning to public.
“If everything goes well, it could be tomorrow,” the 61-year-old ex-civil war leader said. “Everything depends on these negotiations.”
In late 2012 Dhlakama returned to his civil war-era base in central Mozambique, vowing to reignite the country's brutal 16-year civil war that resulted in the death of an estimated one million people.
Since then, his Renamo supporters have fought a low-level insurgency against government troops, attacking public infrastructure and killing civilians and soldiers.
Dhlakama had accused the Frelimo-led government of cutting his supporters out of power, and stealing the country's mineral wealth.
He went into hiding last October after government troops stormed his remote bush camp in central Mozambique.
Talks resumed late January, with the government seemingly willing to meet some of Renamo's demands for greater representation on the electoral commission.
Dhlakama said he was optimistic talks would be successful and confirmed that his party would run in the general election set for October, after threatening a boycott.
“We will participate. There are no doubts whatsoever,” he said.
Negotiators agreed this week to enlarge the existing Election Commission from 13 to 17 members in order to give opposition parties more seats.
“We feel that we are succeeding in forcing the government to accept this law,” he said.
Renamo is still the main opposition party in parliament, but has lost ground to other parties after boycotting municipal polls on the grounds that without changes to election laws, Frelimo would steal the vote.
But while talks continue so has the violence.
Mozambique's military this week accused Renamo fighters of daily attacks on its convoys in the central region of Gorongosa, and said it launched heavy artillery into the rebels' mountain stronghold in response.
Dhlakama confirmed the recent fighting but insisted Renamo had returned fire only in self-defence.
“They are always sending these recruits here to shoot at us,” he said. “When we are provoked at home we have to defend ourselves.”
The rebel leader said he had ordered his troops to stop attacks three weeks ago, while talks continue in the capital Maputo.
“We have troops in Maputo... no one was allowed to attack.”
Dhlakama has run in every presidential election since a peace deal was signed in 1992.
But support for his party has dwindled from 47 percent in 1999 to 16 percent in 2009 and the party is yet to nominate its presidential candidate for October's polls.
Dhlakama has said that he would accept a nomination if asked.