Maputo — The Mozambican Defence Ministry on Saturday denied claims by the country's main opposition party, the former rebel movement Renamo, that the armed forces (FADM) are attacking Satunjira, the bush camp in the central district of Gorongosa, where Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama has been living for the past year.
The claims were made to some of the Mozambican press by senior Renamo figures, notably parliamentary deputy Ivone Soares.
But at a Maputo press conference, the national director of defence policy in the Ministry of Defence, Cristovao Chume, categorically denied that any attack against Satunjira had taken place or was under way. "We would like to say that these reports are false and we think they are intended to sow confusion among Mozambicans", said Chume.
The reality, he says, was that Renamo's armed men had attacked an FADM unit twice on Friday, in the vicinity of Satunjira, once at about 16.00 and once at 22.00.
"The area normally called Antena, which is very near where Afonso Dhlakama is currently living, was attacked by Renamo, and our forces counter-attacked", said Chume. He added that the FADM had suffered no casualties, but was unable to say whether the same was true of the Renamo side.
He stressed that the FADM has no mandate to hunt down anyone. It has no orders to attack any Renamo guerrillas, much less the Satunjira camp.
A report from the independent television station STV, which has a team on the spot in Gorongosa, is broadly in line with Chume's claims.
STV says there were two clashes on Friday. One was at Mucodza, about 20 kilometres from Satunjira. This is the same place where the FADM says one of its units was attacked by Renamo gunmen on Thursday. It seems that Renamo may have been trying to reoccupy Mucodza. TV reports describe it as a "base", but the footage shows nothing more than a few huts.
The second incident was on the outskirts of Satunjira, when an FADM patrol came under fire. The military in Gorongosa assured STV that there were no losses in either side in these clashes.
Dhlakama himself, at a rally he addressed in Satunjira on Thursday, took a fairly conciliatory position. He insisted that he had no intention of going back to war. In particular, there would be no further Renamo attacks on vehicles using the 100 kilometre stretch of the main north-south highway between the Save River and the small town of Muxungue, which had been the scene of ambushes in June.
"I, Dhlakama, guarantee that nobody from Renamo will attack the Muxungue stretch of road", he said. On the basis of that promise, he demanded that the government end the military and police escorts that have been accompanying vehicles along this road.
Dhlakama also took the opportunity to make some extraordinary promises. A Renamo government, he said, would build not one, but two, four lane motorways between the south and north of Mozambique, one following the coastline, and the other along the borders with neighbouring countries.
Furthermore, Renamo would build an electrified railway from south to north, so that it would only take travelers "40 or 50 minutes" to go from Maputo to the northernmost province of Cabo Delgado.
This would be by far the fastest train journey in the world - the scheduled flights of Mozambique Airlines (LAM) take about two and a half hours to cover the distance between Maputo and the Cabo Delgado provincial capital, Pemba.