24 February 2014

Mozambique: Government and Renamo Begin Discussing Security Issues

Maputo — Delegations from the Mozambican government and the former rebel movement Renamo met in Maputo on Monday to discuss defence and security issues, the second item on the agenda for the government-Renamo dialogue.

Unlike all previous sessions of the dialogue, this one was not publicized in advance, and the venue was changed from the Joaquim Chissano Conference Centre to the building of the country's parliament, the Assembly of the Republic. But journalists found out, and attempted to speak to both delegations, without much success.

The head of the government delegation, Agriculture Minister Jose Pacheco, said the meeting took place in a “very cordial” atmosphere - but there was no substantive debate, since the main issue was simply placed on the table. For the government, that issue is the unconditional disarming of Renamo.

The head of the Renamo delegation, senior parliamentarian Saimone Macuiana, was unwilling to speak at all. With his head kept low, he moved quickly past the cameras, giving no information about the subjects under debate.

The dialogue began in April 2013, at Renamo's request. The agenda, also proposed by Renamo, contained four points - the electoral legislation, defence and security matters, separating the state apparatus from political parties, and unspecified economic issues.

Throughout 2013, Renamo refused to move on from the first point on the agenda. In the end, this stubbornness appeared to pay off - the government conceded most of Renamo's demands for changes in the electoral legislation, notably concerning the composition of the National Elections Commission (CNE), and its executive body, the Electoral Administration Technical Secretariat (STAE).

The agreement reached at the dialogue was passed into law by the Assembly on Saturday. The main result is that STAE, instead of being a professional body, and the electoral branch of the civil service, will now be flooded by over 2,300 political appointees from the ruling Frelimo Party, Renamo and he second opposition force, the Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM).

The government made these concessions against a background of Renamo military attacks, mostly in the central province of Sofala, where Renamo gunmen have regularly ambushed convoys on the main north-south highway, and have raided police stations, health posts and other civilian and military targets.

This led the government, in September, to call for the disarming of Renamo as “a prior issue” in the dialogue. But Renamo would not budge, and so the matter was postponed until after the discussion on the electoral laws was finished.

Now the question of disarming Renamo's gunmen is on the table, and it remains to be seen whether the two delegations can work out a method for their speedy demobilization.

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