Mozambique: Gorongosa Clashes Prevent Opening of Registration Posts

Maputo — Contrary to expectations, the nine voter registration brigades allocated to parts of the central district of Gorongosa affected by clashes between government forces and gunmen of the former rebel movement Renamo were unable to begin their work on Thursday.

A deal had been negotiated whereby the brigades could enter the conflict areas, without police protection, but with security guarantees from Renamo. On Thursday, the spokesperson for the National Elections Commission, Paulo Cuinica, told reporters that “guarantees from both sides” had been received.

But, according to a report on the independent television station STV, plans to deploy the brigades were aborted because of an exchange of fire early on Thursday morning in the region of Casa Banana, one of the areas where a voter registration post is to be set up.

Officials from the Electoral Administration Technical Secretariat (STAE) in Gorongosa decided that, under these conditions, it would be too risky to attempt deployment of the remaining brigades. So the 27 members of the brigades remain in Gorongosa town, waiting for the security situation to improve.

STAE deputy general director for training, Jose Manzuana, told reporters “We've just had a meeting with the local authorities, namely the district administrator and the district police commander, where we wanted to fix the final details for transporting the brigades to the places where they will work. But we were taken by surprise with the information that in the early morning there was another clash between government troops and Renamo”.

He said that STAE had complied with the Renamo demand that the brigades should not be accompanied by the police, only to be surprised by continued exchanges of fire between the two sides.

“So there's no security for the brigades to take up their positions”, he said. “As a result we don't know when the registration in those places will happen”.

There are an estimated 48,000 potential voters in Gorongosa district, of whom 28,000 have already registered. Most of the remaining 20,000 live in areas which should be covered by the nine brigades that have not yet begun to work.

Voter registration, involving a total of 4,078 brigades, began on 15 February and is due to end on 29 April. Renamo has submitted a request to extend the voter registration period, but the CNE has not yet decided on this.

Meanwhile, Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama, in a telephone interview with the public television station TVM, broadcast on Thursday, has claimed that the Renamo pressure which led sweeping changes in the electoral legislation will lead to “genuinely democratic” elections.

That pressure included ambushes on the main north-south highway, and attacks on various civilian and military targets in Sofala province in which dozens of people died. The government and the ruling Frelimo party yielded to the Renamo demands, which included the complete politicisation of the electoral bodies. In particular, literally thousands of political appointees have been placed in the electoral commissions and in branches of STAE at every level - national, provincial, district and city.

Dhlakama claimed that staffing the electoral bodies with people chosen by the political parties would produce free, fair and transparent elections “for the first time”.

“All the parties will participate. The situation will improve”, he said. “I shall register and I too will be able to vote”.

Dhlakama has not been seen in public since the armed forces (FADM) occupied the main Renamo military base at Satunjira, also in Gorongosa district, on 21 October. He is believed to be hiding somewhere in the densely wooded slopes of the Gorongosa mountain range, keeping in contact with the outside world via mobile phone.

Unless the Renamo request for an extension of the registration period is approved, Dhlakama will have to make his way to one of the registration posts by next Tuesday. If he fails to register, Dhlakama will be unable to stand as a candidate in the presidential election.

Dhlakama warned that the country could not even think of holding elections without Renamo. He was clearly reacting to a declaration by Agriculture Minister Jose Pacheco, head of the government delegation in the long-running dialogue between Renamo and the government, who promised that the general elections will go ahead on 15 October “with or without Renamo”.

If Renamo does boycott the October elections, it would not be the first time that Mozambican elections are held without Renamo participating.

Renamo boycotted the municipal elections held on 20 October last year. Despite Renamo threats to make it impossible to hold these elections, voting took place successfully in all 53 municipalities.

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