Maputo — The Mozambican Defence Ministry announced on Monday that the armed forces (FADM) have knocked out a major base of the former rebel movement, Renamo, in the central district of Maringue.
The assistant national director of defence policy in the ministry, Col Manuel Mazuze, told reporters that the FADM had reacted on Monday morning to an ambush by Renamo gunmen elsewhere in Maringue district. They pursued the group right to the base which the army then "de-activated".
This is the same base that was Renamo headquarters during the closing years of the war of destabilisation.
For the first half of the 1980s, Renamo's main operational base inside Mozambique was Casa Banana (named after a long defunct shop) in the foothills of the Gorongosa mountains. Mozambican and Zimbabwean forces stormed Casa Banana in 1985, but Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama escaped and re-established his headquarters at Maringue.
All military operations at the Maringue base should have stopped after the peace agreement signed between the government and Renamo in October 1992. Instead, it became the main base for Renamo's illegal militia, known as its "Presidential Guard".
Anonymous sources cited in Tuesday's issue of the independent newsheet "Mediafax" claim that 41 Renamo fighters and 17 members of the FADM died in the clash. But Mazuze denied that there was a pitched battle, and said that the FADM had suffered no losses. He did not know how many men, if any, Renamo had lost.
A high-ranking FADM officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the independent daily "O Pais" that an FADM unit, consisting mostly of men who had taken part in the occupation of the Renamo headquarters at Satunjira, in Gorongosa district, a week earlier, suffered an ambush 20 kilometres outside Maringue town.
They pursued the gunmen responsible into the small town where, at about 11.00, they linked up with the local police command and advanced on the Renamo offices. Less than 200 metres separates the offices from the police command.
Shooting began, and "O Pais" says it is not clear who fired the first shot. The Renamo men fled from the offices and the FADM pursued them to the base. The clashes ended at around 14.00.
The Renamo Maringue district delegate, Antonio Campira, confirmed that the FADM had taken the Renamo office, but said it had only fallen in mid-afternoon.
"I confirm that the FADM assaulted our office", he told the paper. "But they didn't do so very easily. Our forces offered resistance but ended up making a strategic retreat in order to avoid unnecessary deaths. We are in the town and are controlling all movements".
A source cited by the Beira daily "Diario de Mocambique", said that, before moving against the Renamo office, the FADM had advised the civilian population to leave the town. This was the second time in a week that Maringue residents had fled from their homes.
The first occasion was on 22 October, when Renamo attacked the Maringue police command. Calm was re-established and a couple of days later most of the townspeople had returned, and resumed their normal activities. But by early afternoon on Monday the town was again virtually deserted.