By Paul Fauvet

Maputo - Afonso Dhlakama, leader of Mozambique's main opposition party, the former rebel movement Renamo, stormed out of a meeting with President Joaquim Chissano this week, thus breaking off the dialogue between the two men that began in December.

Chissano told reporters that when, after five hours of discussion, Dhlakama left the room, he handed the president a letter, "which shows that he was already prepared to break off the talks".

The key disagreement was over the appointment of provincial governors, with Dhlakama insisting that Renamo nominate governors for the six provinces where Renamo won a majority of votes in the 1999 general elections.

Dhlakama had proposed that, if a constitutional amendment to this effect was not possible, Chissano should use his existing presidential powers to appoint governors suggested by Renamo.

Chissano insisted that changing the constitution was a prerogative of the country's parliament, the assembly of the republic. Altering the way governors are appointed was not a minor change - the quasi-federal model proposed by Dhlakama clashed with the very first article of the current constitution, which establishes the unitary nature of the Mozambican state.

Chissano said he would not treat parliament as a rubber stamp that automatically passed decisions cooked up in meetings between political leaders. Matters that belonged in the assembly should be discussed in the assembly, he insisted.

"We said: Let's take it to the assembly. We are ready to extend the dialogue to the parliamentarians," said Chissano. "But Renamo thinks that's a waste of time. They demand that their governors be appointed by May.

"So Dhlakama announced he was breaking off the dialogue. That's why he's not here," Chissano told reporters. "The only thing that interested him was appointing governors at any cost without the slightest consideration for our institutions or for the law." -

Independent Foreign Service