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Mozambique’s Renamo kills three on highway

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IOL pic mar9 renamo leader

Independent Newspapers

Afonso Dhlakama, the leader of Renamo, speaks to supporters in Maraza village, near Beira. File picture: File picture: Siphiwe Sibeko

Maputo - Mozambique’s former rebel movement Renamo killed at least three people on Tuesday morning in an attack on a convoy of vehicles on the country’s main north-south highway.

This was the second ambush in two days against the road, signalling the end of a “unilateral ceasefire”, decreed by its leader Afonso Dhlakama on May 7.

Tuesday’s fatal attack happened despite the military escorts that accompany convoys on the most dangerous stretch, the 100km between the Save river and the small town of Muxungue in the central province of Sofala.

According to the midday news on the independent television station STV, the victims of yesterday’s attack were passengers in a bus heading south to Maputo. Seven people, including soldiers and civilians, were wounded in the ambush.

In Monday’s attack, in much the same place, the Mozambican police said seven people were injured, but none died.

Speaking at a Maputo press conference on Monday, Renamo spokesperson Antonio Muchanga had said that, with the end of the truce, Renamo could not guarantee the security of vehicles travelling along the country’s main north-south highway, particularly the Save River-Muxungue stretch.

“As from today, there are no guarantees of movement”, threatened Muchanga. “As from this moment Renamo will not be responsible for what happens on that stretch of road. So we draw the attention of the users of the road to take care in circulating in that region.”

The same belligerent tone was struck by the Renamo general secretary, Manuel Bissopo, speaking at a meeting with Renamo supporters in Tete province. He demanded that the government split the armed forces down the middle – half would be selected by the ruling Frelimo Party, and half by Renamo.

Over the past few weeks Renamo has raised this demand in the long-running “dialogue” with the government in Maputo. The government has rejected the politicisation of the armed forces, which are now recruited mostly on the basis of conscription and not of party political affiliation.

Bissopo threatened that, if the government did not accept “parity” in the armed forces, then Renamo would “divide the country in two” – a threat that has been made frequently in the past, but never carried out.

Renamo’s explanation for scrapping the truce was a claim that the government was massing forces in the Sofala district of Gorongosa in order to assassinate Dhlakama, living in a base on the slopes of the Gorongosa mountain range.

The government has repeatedly denied that it has any desire to kill Dhlakama. On Saturday, interior minister Antonio Mondlane assured reporters that the government was willing to guarantee all security conditions so that Dhlakama could leave the Gorongosa bush and undertake his political work, prior to the general elections scheduled for October 15, in which he hopes to be a presidential candidate.

Mondlane said that all Dhlakama had to do was tell the government when he wanted to leave Gorongosa and where he wanted to go. He stressed that there was nothing to stop Dhlakama from travelling to Maputo any time he liked.

Renamo, however, insists that plots are afoot to kill its leader. Muchanga declared: “There is no other option that the Renamo forces can take, except to defend themselves with all the means at their disposal.”

On Monday morning, Renamo also attacked military vehicles at Gravata in Gorongosa. Muchanga claimed that 20 soldiers were killed and 30 injured, but the police only confirmed three injuries.

Meanwhile, Renamo is collecting signatures to back Dhlakama’s bid for the presidency. By law, each presidential candidate must present at least 10 000 supporting signatures from registered voters. Muchanga could see nothing incongruous about waging a political campaign in Maputo, while at the same time opening fire against vehicles in Sofala. - Independent Foreign Service

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