Maputo — The Mozambican armed forces (FADM) have completely surrounded the bush camp at Satunjira, in the central district of Gorongosa, where Afonso Dhlakama, leader of the country's main opposition party, the former rebel movement Renamo has been living for the past year, according to reports on the independent television station, STV.
The FADM's encirclement of Satunjira follows three Renamo attacks on military patrols, one on Thursday and two on Friday.
The FADM has been quite open to the press. STV journalist Franciso Mandlate broadcast his report standing next to FADM soldiers on top of an artillery piece stationed at the entrance to the Satunjira base.
The FADM has not attacked Satunjira, and indeed the Defence Ministry has denied that the army has any intention of launching such an attack. But the repeated Renamo ambushes of military patrols have clearly led the FADM to control access to Dhlakama's base. Tanks and heavy artillery are now pointed at Satunjira.
According to STV's sister publication, the daily paper "O Pais", the troops had instructions not to let anyone enter or leave the base. This included members of the Renamo delegation that has been involved in a fruitless dialogue with the government in Maputo for the past six months.
They tried to leave Satunjira onSaturday, but before they could reach Gorongosa town they were turned back. The delegation could only leave after negotiating its exit with the FADM.
The soldiers have also ordered the removal of the market that used to be at the entrance of the base, and have told the civilian population living within the base perimeter to leave.
Soldiers told "O Pais" that they have instructions to storm the Satunjira base, if there are any further Renamo attacks.
These latest events have reversed the situation of a week ago when Renamo controlled a perimeter of about 30 kilometres around Satunjira.
Now it is the FADM that seems fully in control.
The STV team passed through villages in Mucodza, between Satunjira and Gorongosa, and where two of the recent clashes took place. They found most of the houses abandoned. Civilians, carrying their few possessions, have left the villages, fearing new clashes, and are sleeping in the bush. During the day some men stay behind to protect houses from possible looting. But at night they too melt into the bush.
The Renamo national spokesperson, Fernando Mazanga, claimed that throughout the country Renamo members "are becoming furious and this could have disagreeable consequences". However, the rest of Mozambique is calm, and there is no sign of the "fury" mentioned by Mazanga.
Mazanga has also claimed that the Defence Ministry lied about the Mucodza clashes, alleging that on Thursday the FADM opened fire first. He admitted that two Renamo members died at Mucodza, but also insisted that Renamo had killed seven soldiers.
Reporters on the spot, however, only saw two bodies in the Gorongosa morgue, and FADM officers there insisted that the army had suffered no losses. Mazanga's explanation for this is that the bodies were taken "secretly" to Beira.