Maputo — The leader of Mozambique's main opposition party, the former rebel movement Renamo, Afonso Dhlakama, on Wednesday admitted that Renamo was responsible for ambushes on the main north-south highway in late June.
Speaking at a press conference in his bush headquarters at Satunjira, in the central district of Gorongosa, Dhlakama said the purpose of the attacks was to prevent the transport of troops and weaponry up the road to attack his headquarters.
But in reality the vehicles attacked, on the stretch of road between the Save river and the small town of Muxungue, in Sofala province, were civilian buses and trucks. At least two people died, and five others were injured in these ambushes.
Dhlakama claimed that he had never wanted to attack civilians, and that when he saw one of the victims on television, he ordered the Renamo men concerned to return to base.
"It was never our intention to attack civilians", he alleged. "The troops that come to Gorongosa do not come in military vehicles but in civilian ones. Hence some civilians were attacked because they were in vehicles that were believed to be carrying soldiers".
In fact, journalists in Sofala have reported seeing plenty of military and police vehicles on the roads. Nobody has reported seeing soldiers disguised as civilians. The known deaths in the ambushes were a driver and a driver's mate in two civilian trucks that were burnt out.
Dhlakama denied categorically that Renamo had carried out the attack on a military arsenal, belonging to the Mozambican armed forces (FADM), at Savane, also in Sofala. Seven soldiers were murdered in this raid, and an unspecified amount of weaponry was stolen.
"We don't know who did that. If it had been us, we wouldn't have denied it", he said. "I don't know why people are shouting about it, since it was a military target. If it had been Renamo, I would say it was us who attacked to steal guns, and perhaps one day this might happen".
Dhlakama announced that he was willing to hold a face-to-face meeting with Mozambican President Armando Guebuza - but he would only go to Maputo, if the government withdrew the military and police forces from the vicinity of Satunjira. If the government was unwilling to accept that condition, then Guebuza would have to come to Gorongosa for the meeting.
He said he was imposing this condition because he feared that the government would take the opportunity of his absence to overrun the Satunjira base. Renamo has been predicting an imminent attack on the base ever since Dhlakama moved there last October, but nothing of the sort has happened.
Once more, Dhlakama insisted that Renamo will only take part in the municipal elections scheduled for 20 November, if the current electoral legislation is repealed, He claimed that it was not only Renamo but other, unspecified, political parties who were demanding changes in the law.
In reality, the current electoral laws were passed in the country's parliament last December with both the ruling Frelimo Party and the opposition Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM) voting in favour. The Renamo parliamentary group voted against and was defeated. Over the previous two years, Renamo had played a full role in discussions in the parliamentary commission on public administration, and in negotiations between the leaderships of the three parliamentary groups, which amended the legislation.
Dhlakama claimed he would not return to war. "I want the media to tell Mozambicans that there is no war in Mozambique", he said. "On the day that the President withdraws the security forces that are surrounding me in Satunjira and throughout Gorongosa, I will go to Maputo, even tomorrow. But if he has problems in withdrawing the troops, then I invite him to come to Gorongosa so that we can end this tension".
The press conference followed a meeting between Dhlakama and a delegation from the Electoral Observatory, the coalition of religious and civil society groups which is by far the most representative body involved in observing Mozambican elections.
The head of the Observatory delegation, Rev Dinis Matsolo, told reporters that most important advance was that there now existed an openness to constructive dialogue on both sides.
"We had a completely open discussion which shows us that there is a willingness for dialogue", he said. "We have to go forward to find the best paths for peace".
The Observatory would now meet again with Guebuza, since there was no time to lose and so that the current impasse can be broken. "The important thing is that people should speak honestly about matters and with mutual respect, in a dialogue which is not a confrontation but an opportunity to listen to the other side".