Maputo — Leaders of Mozambique's former rebel movement Renamo at the weekend threatened a return to war, in response to the 8 March clash between the Mozambican police and demobilised Renamo fighters in the northern city of Nampula.
For months the Renamo demobilised, protected by armed members of the illegal Renamo security force known as its Presidential Guard, had concentrated in and around the Renamo Nampula office. Here they committed several criminal offences, including beating up a television crew and keeping a man they accused of being a "Frelimo spy" imprisoned for over a month.
The police say they moved against the Renamo camp on the morning of 8 March because one of their vehicles came under fire from the Renamo guards. In the shootout that followed, one policeman and one of the demobilised were killed. The police stormed the Renamo office, and those demobilised not arrested fled to the house of Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama.
On Saturday the Renamo leadership (minus Dhlakama who hardly ever shows his face in public nowadays) met in Maputo to discuss their response to the Nampula events. Those parts of the meeting attended by reporters were characterized by bloodcurdling speeches, threatening to plunge the country back into war.
According to the report in Monday's issue of the independent newsheet "Mediafax", the head of the Renamo Youth League, Rui de Sousa, declared "Let's deliver our lives to save democracy in Mozambique".
"We warn Frelimo not to take such attitudes again", threatened Sousa, "because, although we are at peace, such acts will not be permitted".
A man describing himself as head of the Renamo demobilised, Jorge Manuel, said "We are tired of insults and social exclusion. Now the only thing left to us is to fight for democracy. The only thing left to us is to take up arms and fight".
The head of the Renamo Women's League, Maria Ines Marta, claimed that "Frelimo and (President Armando) Guebuza are a group of terrorists. Their actions continue to take human lives, and sow insecurity and despair. We should not tolerate this".
The Renamo General Secretary, Ossufo Mamude, claimed that Frelimo is preparing to assassinate Dhlakama. "We have information that Frelimo is preparing a group of its sympathizers to march in Rua das Flores (the Nampula street where Dhlakama lives), demanding that President Dhlakama leave Nampula. In this group, agents of SISE (State Security and Intelligence Service) will be infiltrated, using Moslem robes under which they will carry guns to assassinate President Dhlakama".
Momade gave no reason why anyone should believe this fanciful story.
He also said that Renamo is waiting for a response to a formal question sent to Guebuza, asking whether he personally authorised the police to storm the Renamo Nampula office. "Depending on his reply, we will know what position to take", said Momade. "Our President, Afonso Dhlakama, will know what position should be announced to the Mozambicans ".
"We are prepared to act", he added. "We are just awaiting orders from our President. Young people are tired and are waiting for the revolution led by Renamo. It would be better to forget tolerance and set off for war".
But real insurrections are not announced in the presence of journalists. Saturday's bellicose statements smack more of a publicity stunt. They also give Dhlakama another opportunity to pose as a moderate, claiming that he is under pressure from more aggressive members of his own party - a tactic he has used repeatedly in the past.
According to Renamo, its lawyers have secured the release of 30 of the 34 people arrested following the 8 March clashes. But it is not yet clear whether prosecutors will press any charges against them.
As for the other 300 or so - where are they? When Interior Minister Alberto Mondlane was asked this last week, he made it clear that this number does not come from the police. No reporters were allowed close enough to count how many people were gathered around the Renamo Nampula office - and so the only conclusion is that the figure of 300, cited so often in the Mozambican press, comes from Renamo.
But could 300 people really have squeezed into the squalid camp at the office? The footage taken after the police raid showed an area that looks far too small to hold hundreds of men. If the figure of 300 is true, and only 34 were arrested, we are asked to believe that some 260 fled to Dhlakama's house - and again the house and its yard does not seem large enough to hold such a number.