30 March 2007

Mozambique: Neighbourhoods Almost Cleared of Fallen Weapons, Military Says

Maputo — The removal of thousands of rockets and artillery shells from neighbourhoods of the Mozambican capital, Maputo, is nearly complete, military officials said this week.

About 4,000 units of ordnance have been recovered, representing "more than 90 percent" of the weapons blown into houses and streets by last week's explosions at the Malhazine munitions dump, the largest such facility in the country.

Falling ordnance killed more than a hundred people in the densely populated areas near the dump, injured more than 500 and temporarily displaced tens of thousands of people. About a dozen schools were damaged or destroyed. The military has yet to report how many army personnel were killed in the blasts.

There were no reports of any ordnance exploding on impact, but weapons experts said the munitions littering the surrounding neighbourhoods constituted a threat if handled incorrectly.

Mozambique's President Armando Guebuza promised in a speech after the disaster that the weapons stored at the Malhazine facility would be moved to a more remote location, but military officials said this week that US$24 million would be needed to do so.

It was unclear how the funds would be raised, or when the move might take place. The Mozambique government is already trying to raise US$71 million to assist recovery in areas devastated in February by floods and a cyclone.

Pressure is building on the government to take greater responsibility for the explosions. This week, victims of the blasts formed an interest group to press for reparations. The government has yet to clarify its policy on the matter, citing the need to collect more information about the damage.

A demonstration at the national assembly is planned on Saturday to demand the sacking of Minister of Defence Tobias Dai, the president's brother-in-law.

Some said Dai should have relocated the deteriorating weapons after an explosion at the Malhazine site in January resulted in three injuries. The military has long recognised the danger posed by the thousands of tonnes of aging weapons stored at its 17 munitions dumps nationwide. The facilities tend to be poorly maintained and poorly secured.

A report in Thursday's edition of Zambeze, a weekly newspaper, said military sources laid ultimate blame on the former commander of the Malhazine dump. Unnamed sources in the story said the former commander, Col Jossefa Machava, had defended her performance by saying she lacked the trucks or the fuel to carry out the job.

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations ]

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