Maputo — The Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, on Tuesday night unanimously approved a bill granting amnesty to all those involved in the recent clashes between government forces and gunmen of the former rebel movement Renamo.
The bill could only be passed at 23.00 after lengthy negotiations behind closed doors between the parliamentary groups of Renamo and of the ruling Frelimo Party.
The third party in parliament, the Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM) felt left on the sidelines. “We were just spectators!”, exclaimed MDM spokesperson Jose Manuel de Sousa.
The sole problem in the bill was the time frame. As submitted to the Assembly by President Armando Guebuza, the bill pardoned crimes committed between June 2012 and the present. Renamo objected, and insisted that the amnesty should cover all security connected crimes committed since the first multi-party elections of 1994. Renamo spokesperson Arnaldo Chalaua told reporters that no date at all should be mentioned in the law.
Eventually a compromise was struck. The bill as passed covers the period between March 2012 and the present.
On 8 March clashes took place between the police and Renamo gunmen at the Renamo offices in the northern city of Nampula. About 300 demobilised Renamo soldiers had camped at the offices for several months, interfering in the normal activities of Nampula residents.
Each side claimed that the other had opened fire first on 8 March. The police said that Renamo had attacked one of its vehicles. The police returned fire and then stormed the Renamo office.
The then Renamo general secretary, Ossufo Momade, boasted that Renamo had killed seven policemen. However, the police claimed there were only two deaths, a police officer and a demobilised Renamo soldier. 34 of the Renamo members were arrested.
A case can be made for these events marking the start of the political and military tensions that culminated in the repeated Renamo ambushes over the past year against civilian and military vehicles using the main north-south highway in the central province of Sofala.
Backdating the amnesty to March 2012 was not enough for Renamo. It successfully pushed for the inclusion of several other violent incidents - those which occurred in Savane in 2002, in Cheringoma in 2004, and in Maringue in 2011.
The bill pardons all crimes against state security, all military crimes, and all crimes against persons and property committed in connection with security and military offences, during the specified periods.
This covers not only all Renamo gunmen, but also any policemen or soldiers who may have committed abuses during the recent fighting.
The amnesty is worded broadly enough to cover not only armed rebellion, but also crimes of murder, arson, theft and illegal possession of firearms.
It is thus expected that Antonio Muchanga, the spokesperson for Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama, who was arrested in July for incitement to violence will now be released, and that similar charges against the head of the Renamo Information Department, Jeronimo Malagueta, will be dropped.
Introducing the bill on behalf of Guebuza, Justice Minister Benvinda Levi said the amnesty was “in favour of peace, political stability and national unity”.
She insisted that “differences of opinion between Mozambicans should and can be solved through frank, honest and fruitful dialogue, and never through violence”.
This is far from the first time that Renamo has enjoyed an amnesty. Immediately after the peace agreement between the government and Renamo, signed on 4 October 1992, an amnesty was granted covering all crimes committed during the war of destabilisation.
Even during the war, amnesty laws were passed in attempts to persuade Renamo fighters to surrender. These amnesties were passed in 1984, in 1987 (twice) and in 1989.
The latest amnesty is one of the guarantees for the political agreement on a cessation of hostilities reached in the dialogue between government and Renamo delegation. The delegations signed that agreement on Monday, and it now awaits formal approval by Guebuza and Dhlakama. But despite optimistic forecasts by some of the Mozambican media there is still no sign of Dhlakama arriving in Maputo.
Guebuza has promised that he will promulgate the amnesty bill as soon as he receives it from the Assembly, and then send it for publication in the official gazette, the “Boletim da Republica”. This could all happen on Wednesday, and then the amnesty will take effect.