7 June 2014

Mozambique: Convoy of Civilians Attacked in Central Mozambique - Military Use Civilians As Human Shields

Photo: J. Jackson/VOA
Renamo rebels being re-trained for combat at a remote bush camp near Gorongosa mountains (file photo).

The war continues in the central part of Mozambique. At approximately 2PM this past Saturday, another convoy of civilian vehicles was attacked on the National Road 1, while driving northbound. We have unofficial reports that two Mozambican Defense Force (FADM) soldiers were killed and others were wounded. According to witness reports, rather than protecting the convoy, FADM soldiers used civilians as human shields, deeming that the alleged Renamo gunmen would not shoot at defenseless citizens.

Shortly after 11AM, over a thousand lorries, trucks and passenger buses left the Save River region. The head of the convoy was a Land Rover military vehicle, transporting heavy weapons and about a dozen soldiers.

The trip, already a nightmare for some Mozambicans who were forced to stay overnight in precarious conditions the night before, got worse when they approached Zove region and a machine gun shot hit the military vehicle, the only one in the convoy. The Land Rover then swerved and ended up flipping over on the side of the road.

Panic ensued as the shots continued to rain from the thick brush lining the road, making it impossible to see the attackers who were assumed to be men allied with Renamo leader, Afonso Dlakhama.

The surprise attack caused several cars to slam on their brakes and collide into each other, while other drivers attempted to maneuver their vehicles away from the area targeted by gunfire.

Some civilians got out of their cars and sought refuge in the brush safe from gunfire and others hid underneath their stationary vehicles.

Several dozen military, most of whom were traveling in a protected police vehicle and others in civilian vehicles, began to fight. Without great effectiveness, they quickly retreated in flight, seeking refuge amongst civilians.

Several witnesses, who have experienced the recent Renamo attacks, claim that the armed men do not target civilians with their gunfire.

Some citizens who spoke with Verdade via phone reported that the military's lack of preparation and combat measures was obvious.

"They had machine guns and some bazookas, the big gun was in the lead vehicle that flipped over (...) but they didn't have proper means of communication and used their mobile phones to contact their commander.

In this area the phone network was weak and there was no way to call for backup."

Not long after the attack began, it ended.

Yet there were still several kilometers of the trip left until the convoy reached Muxamba. Without a lead military escort vehicle, it was necessary for the convoy to wait for reinforcements to arrive so that the trip could proceed. They waited for more than two hours.

Among the civilians, that included women and children, there is no record of victims. At least two soldiers, who were immediately behind in the car that flipped over, died. Three other soldiers were injured, however it has not been possible to determine the severity of their injuries.

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