Maputo — Mozambique's former rebel movement Renamo on Friday threatened to plunge the country back into generalized warfare, on the grounds that the government is concentrating troops in Gorongosa district in order to hunt down Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama - an accusation denied by the Defence Ministry.
At a Maputo press conference, Antonio Muchanga, the spokesperson for Dhlakama, claimed that the government is concentrating its forces in Gorongosa, in the central province of Sofala, in order "to physically liquidate" Dhlakama.
This military activity, he claimed, "is disturbing voter registration in the Vanduzi and Canda administrative posts, because the troops on the ground clearly say that their mission is to prevent the registration of Afonso Dhlakama so as to facilitate the victory (in the October 15 presidential election) of the Frelimo candidate, the former defence minister (Filipe Nyusi)". He did not reveal how he can possibly know what "troops on the ground" are saying.
Muchanga claimed that "over the past ten days there has been a heavy concentration of troops from the riot police and the armed forces in Gorongosa, transported from several provinces in buses and trucks".
He alleged that the general staff, which had operated in the town of Dondo since the start of the current conflict, had moved into Gorongosa, and that the operational command, which had been in the city of Chimoio, was switched to Gorongosa on 30 April.
"These movements seek to bring the troops closer to the target which is Renamo President Dhlakama", Muchanga insisted.
This is just the latest in a long string of Renamo claims that the government is plotting to assassinate Dhlakama.
The Renamo leader has not been seen in public since the armed forces (FADM) occupied the main Renamo military base at Satunjira, in Gorongosa, on 21 October. Dhlakama is believed to be living somewhere in the densely wooded slopes of the Gorongosa mountain range, from where he remains in contact by mobile phone with other Renamo leaders and with journalists.
Muchanga claimed that the alleged troop concentration "calls into question all gains made in the dialogue, because it unequivocally shows that President Guebuza wants to achieve a military solution just as happened in Angola".
He was referring to the death in combat of Angola rebel leader Jonas Savimbi in 2002. As for the "gains made in the dialogue", these are the concessions the government made to Renamo demands for sweeping changes in the electoral legislation. The government had hoped that giving Renamo what it wanted in the rules for elections would persuade Renamo to lay down its guns. But there is no sign whatever of Renamo disarming.
Muchanga claimed that Dhlakama had declared a unilateral ceasefire in Sofala province to allow the eight voter registration brigades still in Gorongosa town to deploy to their posts in rural areas in the north of the district. Continued clashes, however, mean that the brigades have been unable to leave the safety of the town.
Muchanga threatened that Renamo would terminate this supposed ceasefire and that its commanders in other part of the country will "activate" Renamo forces, thus expanding the conflict across the country - even if this is against Dhlakama's own wishes.
The Defence Ministry reacted immediately, denying that there was any concentration of forces in Gorongosa in order to liquidate Dhlakama.
"It is not true that we are concentrating military forces in the Gorongosa area to pursue anybody. I can guarantee that", said the Ministry spokesperson, Col Cristovao Chume, cited in Saturday's issue of the Maputo daily "Noticias".
Chume said he knew of no large scale operations in Gorongosa. "Nothing of this sort is happening", he added. "It's a pure invention of Renamo".
The Frelimo Central Committee Secretary for Mobilisation and Propaganda, Damiao Jose, condemned Muchanga's threats. Renamo's intention he warned was to sabotage the general elections set for 15 October, because Renamo is unprepared and thus unwilling to contest them.