Mozambique: Renamo Demanding Release of "political Prisoners"

Maputo — Mozambique's former rebel movement Renamo has raised yet another pre-condition to be met before it will lay down its arms - the release of what it calls "political prisoners".

After the latest round of dialogue between the government and Renamo, on Wednesday, the head of the Renamo delegation, Saimone Macuiana, claimed that the release of these prisoners was essential for a return to peace.

According to a report in the independent daily "O Pais", chief among those whom Renamo wishes to see freed is the head of its information department, Jeronimo Malagueta, who was charged with incitement to violence last June.

Malagueta held a press conference to announce that Renamo would prevent the movement of vehicles along the main north-south highway between the Save river and Muxungue, in Sofala province, as well as the movement of trains along the Sena rail line between the Moatize coal basin and Beira.

Malagueta's statement was interpreted in some quarters as "a declaration of war". At the press conference he was asked if that was the correct interpretation to put on his words, but he declined to answer.

The police did not pick up Malagueta immediately after his incendiary statements, but only two days later, after Renamo gunmen really did begin ambushing vehicles, and murdering their drivers and passengers, on the Save-Muxungue stretch of the main road.

Malagueta was charged with incitement but, thanks to the habitual lethargy of the Mozambican legal system, the case has not yet come to trial.

Macuiana also demanded the release of the Renamo gunmen detained in a clash with the riot police in the northern city of Nampula in March 2012.

This comes on top of another Renamo pre-condition - namely that there should be "international mediation" in future talks with the government.

For the government, this is unacceptable. The head of the government delegation, Agriculture Minister Jose Pacheco, told reporters on Wednesday that the dialogue with Renamo was an internal matter between Mozambicans for which no foreign mediation was required. The government had no wish to "internationalise" the discussions.

These pre-conditions make Renamo promises to halt attacks once the appropriate mechanisms are put in place sound hollow. According to Macuiana, those mechanisms would include guarantees of inspecting and controlling a ceasefire.

The government, however, speaks not of a ceasefire, but of the unconditional disarming of Renamo. For Renamo has already signed one ceasefire - under the general peace agreement of 1992. Renamo has violated that agreement by activating units of armed men who ought to have been demobilised under the peace accord.

The ruling Frelimo Party is clearly incensed at what it regards as Renamo's bad faith. In February, Frelimo agreed to amend the electoral legislation to accommodate all of Renamo's key demand, including staffing the electoral bodies with literally hundreds of political appointees. Since the excuse for the Renamo attacks was precisely the electoral legislation, Frelimo expected Renamo to halt the attacks, and that has not happened.

Speaking in the country's parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, on Thursday, the spokesperson for the Frelimo parliamentary group, Edmundo Galiza-Matos Junior, said he had assumed that Frelimo's concessions over the electoral laws would bring the attacks to an end. But he was now convinced that the unanimity in passing the election laws, the applause, the embraces between the heads of the Renamo, Frelimo and MDM parliamentary groups was "all just a show - and, contrary to our expectations, we face more armed attacks".

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