11 April 2013

Mozambique Government to Hold Talks With Rebels

Photo: Guy Oliver/IRIN
President Armando Guebuza has warned that he would respond to the attacks.

Mozambique's government has announced that it will meet a delegation from the ex-rebel group Renamo on Friday, amid threats of violence that echo the country's brutal civil war.

A spokesman for the defence ministry said the interior minister, Alberto Mondlane, would receive a Renamo delegation following the attacks between the former civil war foes in the central province of Sofala last week that left seven people dead, including four police officers.

Tensions between Renamo and the Frelimo-led government escalated last year after the group's leader Afonso Dhlakama set up camp in the Gorongosa Mountains and began retraining former guerrilla fighters.

The former rebels are demanding the government renegotiate the terms of a 1992 peace accord.

Earlier this month, Renamo members attacked a police command post in the town of Muxungue, just hours after the police raided the group's office with tear gas and arrested 15 leaders.

Dhlakama has said that he is open to a ceasefire as long as the government pulls back its security forces from the perimeter of his bush camp in the Gorongosa Mountains and releases the 15 detained supporters.

The deadliest attacks in Mozambique in more than a decade have rekindled memories of the civil war between 1975 and 1992.

Tensions across the country

The situation has deteriorated in the past days raising fears that the two decades of peace in the mineral-rich southern African nation may be under threat.

Speaking to DW, Fernando Veloso, director of the Mozambican online portal Canalmoz, said the police premises were attacked and there was an exchange of heavy gunfire.

The attack was in response to a raid on Renamo gathering in Muxungué that resulted in the arrest of 15 of its supporters. According to police, the group was carrying out military drills.

Tensions have also been growing in other areas such as Gondola in Manica province in central Mozambique and in the former rebel stronghold of Sofala province.

Sofala was where the rebels had their main headquarters "Casa Banana" during the civil war, located in the middle of Gorongosa national park.

Possible return to civil war

Analysts have largely dismissed Dhlakama's threats of a return to civil war as bluster, aimed at regaining some of his depleted political power.

But Sultan Mussa, a program officer at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Mozambique, which has monitors Renamo's activities, said there was the possiblity of civil war flaring up again as the government has not been taking dialogue with the Renamo very seriously.

"It is true that Renamo is represented in parliament but is too weak to wield any influence in decision-making," he added.

Renamo never completely disarmed

Not all Renamo rebels were disarmed after the peace agreement was signed between the Frelimo government and Renamo in 1992.

The government wanted to avoid further armed confrontation and was unwilling to break up Dhlakama's elite unit of some 400 fighters. His base in Maringué, in Sofala province just north of the Gorongosa National Park, was kept under close surveillance by the police.

Access to the Maringué base was generally not possible, even for independent observers.

Renamo showed no interest in disarming, making the threat of a possible return to war credible. In 1999 at the first election after the signing of peace agreement, Dhlakama garnered 47.7 percent of the vote, failing by a narrow margin to prevent President Joaquim Chissano from being re-elected.

Shunned by voters

In the years that followed the gap beetween Renamo and the rest of the population grew wider. In urban areas in particular, voters had little time for the persistent emphasis on the figure of party leader Afonso Dhlakama.

Dhlakama withdrew from the public eye, living in seclusion in Nampula in the north of the country in recent years, but retaining the party leadership.

The price he paid for isolating himself was a dismal performance at the polls, securing just 16.4 percent of the vote in the 2009 election.

Renamo has announced that it will not be participating in municipal elections in November. It is the only one of three parties represented in parliament that is not competing. Renamo says it is protesting against the composition of the Electoral Commission, which it claims is stacked against it.

The party's secretary general Manuel Bissopo said Renamo "will not allow the elections to take place, without a transparent, free and fair control of the electoral process."

Competition from the new party MDM

With such tactics Renamo is maneuvering itself further and further into the political wilderness. It doesn't run a single municipality in the whole of Mozambique.

In the 2009 poll, Renamo fared badly in its former strongholds of Beira and Quelimane, losing its position as the main opposition party to the newly-formed Democratic Movement of Mozambique (MDM).

The MDM was founded by Daviz Simango, formerly the Renamo mayor of Beira, Mozambique's second largest city.

Renamo's frustration runs deep. Once regarded as pro-Western and pro-market, the rebels achieved little the way of success in business or commerce after the civil war. But represeentatives of Frelimo, once a Marxist group, have since turned into wealthy entrepreneurs, enjoying the commodities boom fuelled by the discovery of large coal and natural gas deposits.

 - Johannes Beck, afp, Reuters, Dpa

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