Maputo — The Mozambican Armed Forces (FADM) have announced that a military unit shot dead two armed men of the main opposition party, the former rebel movement Renamo, on Thursday, in response to a Renamo ambush in the central province of Sofala.
Speaking at a Maputo press conference on Thursday evening, the national director of defence policy in the Ministry of Defence, Col Cristovao Chume, said that the clash occurred in Mucodza, about seven kilometres from the town of Gorongosa.
He said that one Renamo fighter was injured and then taken prisoner by the FADM unit. He is currently receiving medical treatment. The FADM also seized two firearms. Chume said that the FADM suffered no losses.
Chume said the attack happened while the military unit was on a routine patrol.
Mucodza is about 20 kilometres from Satunjira, where Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama has been living in a bush camp for the past year. The clash coincided with the commemorations in Satunjira of the death, on 17 October 1979, of the first Renamo commander, the Rhodesian agent Andre Matsangaissa.
Chume declared that, despite this shootout, there is no sign of any return to war in the region. He guaranteed that the FADM will do all in its power to preserve peace throughout Mozambique, and to ensure the normal functioning of public and private institutions.
Asked whether there was any need for military reinforcements in the area, Chume said such a move would be unnecessary, and that the FADM "is continuing to undertake its normal activities".
As for the rest of the Renamo group, Chume implied that the FADM has no intention of hunting them down. He said that the mission of the FADM is to ensure the defence of all Mozambican territory, and not to attack the Renamo forces, "because we think it is political dialogue that will preserve peace in Mozambique".
Mozambican President Armando Guebuza condemned the Renamo attack, but made it clear that he is still willing to meet with Dhlakama. His spokesperson, Edson Macuacua, told reporters that the Renamo actions "merely sow sorrow and uncertainty among Mozambican families. They are an attack against peace, and public security, order and tranquility".
Macuacua said the attack would not cause any change in Guebuza's planned trip to Sofala province next week, as part of his "Open and Inclusive Presidency".
He added that Guebuza urges Renamo to abandon the use of force, and has repeated his invitation to Dhlakama to observe the spirit of peace and to opt for dialogue. "The President reaffirms that only through dialogue can matters of national interest be discussed", he added.
Guebuza deplored the fact that Renamo still as men under arms, but declared that he remains willing to meet with Dhlakama. However, he insisted that such a meeting must take place in Maputo.
Macuacua rejected the idea that the meeting could be held during Guebuza's visit to Sofala. Since Dhlakama is refusing to travel to the capital, it seems that a meeting between the two men may still be a long way off.
At Satunjira, Dhlakama told reporters covering the Renamo commemorations that no Renamo men had been killed. He said the real casualties had been suffered by the FADM, and that it was the army that had launched the attack.
However, when the reporters returned to Gorongosa, they confirmed that the bodies of two Renamo men were in the local morgue. The FADM also showed the journalists six detained Renamo members.
Some of the reporters suspected that the FADM was concealing its own casualties.
Friday's edition of the independent newsheet "Mediafax" says the paper's correspondent saw a wounded soldier leaving the Gorongosa hospital. He was being taken for treatment in Beira Central Hospital.
Sources in Gorongosa told "Mediafax" there were other wounded soldiers, some in the local hospital, some on the way to Beira.
Speaking at the Matsangaissa anniversary, Dhlakama once again pledged that he would never return to war. He claimed that the clashes that have occurred this year were only a Renamo response to government attacks, intended to show that Renamo still has the capacity to respond militarily to what he called "provocations".
Dhlakama gave the government a deadline of next Monday to end the police escorts of vehicles travelling on the 100 kilometre stretch of the main north-south highway between the Save River and the small town of Muxungue. He said the escorts made no sense, because he had already promised not to attack any vehicles and nobody in Renamo would dare defy him. If the escorts continued, it would just be "cheap propaganda", he claimed, since Renamo would no longer attack anybody.
Vehicles have been travelling in convoy and under escort along this stretch of road since June, when Renamo launched ambushes in which two people were murdered.
Dhlakama claimed that the solution to the current tensions would be for Guebuza to come to Gorongosa for a face-to-face meeting with him, or for the government to remove the police and military from the Satunjira area, thus opening the way for Dhlakama to come to Maputo.
Dhlakama's declared excuse for not meeting Guebuza in Maputo is he fears that, if he leaves Satunjira, the defence and security forces will storm the base.
According to the report in Friday's issue of the independent daily "O Pais", the FADM have now halted the circulation of people and vehicles along the roads that lead to Satunjira, and are promising to restrict still further access to Dhlakama's base.