Fighting between the army and Renamo in Homoine, Inhambane, and Gorongosa, Sofala, indicate an increase in military action on both sides as well as a further spread of Renamo guerrillas.
Reports are confused and contradictory, but television crews, community radio, and mobile telephones mean there is much more reporting than during the war 20 years ago.
Fighting yesterday has been confirmed at Pembe, Homoine district, Inhambane. Mediafax today reports six members of the Mozambican riot police (FIR) killed in the fighting, while STV reports two Renamo deaths.
Mediafax Monday reported that 70 and 100 Renamo men, some of them carrying AK-47 assault rifles, last week re-occupied what had been its main base in Inhambane during the 1981-92 war, at Nhamungue in Pembe, Homoine district, Inhambane. Residents told Mediafax that the armed men spoke Portuguese, as well as Ndau and Sena, the languages of Sofala province, but not local languages from Inhambane. Renamo national spokesperson, Fernando Mazanga, confirmed at a press conference today that the men are from Renamo, AIM reports.
AIM also reports that STV interviewed people in the area who said armed men had gone from house to house asking for food and water. One woman told STV "We saw soldiers who said they were from Renamo. Some were armed and others weren't. They're not harming or stealing from anyone.
When they go to homes, they buy goods with their money. But we're afraid of a repetition of what happened during the war".
This follows the report in O Pais (27 Dec) of the arrest on 23 December of 16 armed Renamo men moving south through the town of Morrumbene, Inhambane. As in Homoine, the armed men were said to be purchasing supplies from local traders, and not confronting local people. Homoine and Morrumbene are adjoining districts in the south of the province, which suggests that Renamo is trying to follow a pattern of 30 years ago when it sent fighters south from Gorongosa through sparsely populated areas of central Inhambane.
Homoine was the site of the worst massacre during the war. On 18 July 1987 a large Renamo force swept through the town, killing 424 people, including patients lying in hospital beds. Thus the return of Renamo created panic, and hundreds of people fled Pembe toward Homoine town.
When a crew from the independent television station STV visited Pembe on Saturday 4 Jan they found it almost totally deserted. The police station, which should be open 24 hours a day, had been abandoned, and there were neither staff nor patients in the Pembe health post.
Mediafax reports that the Inhambane provincial government ordered the Homoine community radio station to stop transmitting or at least to cease reporting on the security situation in the district. But the community radio has continued to broadcast, and on Tuesday morning it reported that heavily armed men entered Homoine town overnight "in order to dislodge the Renamo men who are camped in the old base at Nhamungue".
Meanwhile, O Pais (6 & 8 Jan) reports heavy fighting in Gorongosa district, especially between Gorongosa town and Vunduzi, 35 km to the north and the nearest town to the former Renamo base of Santungira. O Pais says that the military has forced more than 3500 people in the area to move to three temporary refugee centres in Gorongosa town. Fighters and civilians have been killed but there are no confirmed numbers.
There were two Renamo attacks on traffic on the north-south N-1 highway on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day near Muxungue in an area where traffic now travels in convoy, under military escort. Five people were injured, none seriously enough to be hospitalised. Renamo has also dug a second trench in the road, which slows down the convoys. This was a very effective tactic used by Renamo during the 1981-92 war which meant no vehicles could drive from Maputo to Beira for more than a decade.
Frelimo's candidate for President of Mozambique will be chosen at a Central Committee meeting in Matola 27 Feb to 2 March. The national election will be 15 October. Guebuza remains head of the party, but cannot stand again as Mozambique president.