Maputo - Mozambican rebel leader Afonso Dhlakama came out of hiding Thursday, returning to Maputo in a symbolic end to a two-year conflict that has rekindled memories of a brutal civil war and spooked investors.
An AFP reporter witnessed the Renamo leader touch down in the capital Maputo, flanked by foreign diplomats - there as a guarantee of his safety - ahead of a meeting to cement a peace deal with President Armando Guebuza Friday.
A large and rowdy crowd of supporters waited for hours at the city's airport to “fetch our president,” some climbing trees to get a better look.
Dhlakama disappeared from public life in October 2012, relocating to a remote bush camp in central Mozambique and claiming the government had not kept to the terms of a 1992 peace deal.
That accord ended 15 years of bitter civil war that led to the deaths of an estimated one million people.
The war pitted Dhlakama's Mozambican National Resistance (Renamo) and the initially Marxist Mozambique Liberation Front (Frelimo), which assumed power after independence from Portugal in 1975.
In late 2013, the Renamo leader went into hiding in the Gorongosa mountains as government troops overran his camp and the conflict deepened.
Dhlakama's supporters attacked buses and cars on the main north-south highway, in a low-level but deadly insurgency.
Dhlakama's return will help pave the way for peaceful elections next month.
The 61-year-old has run in every presidential race since 1994, but saw his support wane to 16 percent in 2009 polls.
Frelimo is almost certain to beat its erstwhile civil war foe for the fifth time in the October 15 vote.
Guebuza is stepping down after serving the maximum two terms and his Frelimo party's candidate, former defence minister Felipe Nyussi, is seen as almost certain to win the presidency.
Despite a peace deal signed between his party and the Frelimo-led government late last month, Dhlakama had been reluctant to leave his hideout, citing “security” concerns.
Diplomats were upbeat about the prospect of calming tensions.
“I am feeling very optimistic right now. I believe there is a strong determination to resolve the situation in a peaceful manner rather than resorting to conflict” Portuguese ambassador Jose Duarte told AFP.
The agreement promised his rebel fighters positions in state security forces and an amnesty for crimes committed during the near two-year insurgency.
“We have been waiting for this for a long time,” Renamo supporter Elias Arnaldo told AFP, saying Renamo members, who felt they had been persecuted by the ruling party and robbed of jobs and opportunities, “now have hope”.