19 February 2016

Mozambique: Armed Escorts Re-Introduced On Save-Muxungue Road

Photo: J. Jackson/VOA
Renamo rebels being trained for combat at a remote bush camp (file Photo).

Maputo — The Mozambican police have reintroduced a system of convoys under armed escort for vehicles travelling on the 100 kilometre stretch of the country's main north-south highway between the Save river and the small town of Muxungue, in the central province of Sofala.

Such convoys, to protect vehicles, drivers and passengers against attack by gunmen of the former rebel movement Renamo, were first used during the Renamo insurgency in Sofala in 2013-14. The authorities believed that the Agreement on a Cessation of Military Hostilities, signed by the then President Armando Guebuza and by Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama on 5 September 2014, ended the need for convoys and armed escorts.

But Renamo has torn up the agreement by refusing to disarm, and has sent its militia back onto the roads to attack vehicles. The Sofala provincial head of mobilization for Renamo, Horacio Calavete, claiming to speak on behalf of Dhlakama, publicly announced, on 8 February, that Renamo would block the main roads running through Sofala.

Three days later, attacks on the Save-Muxungue road resumed. In response the police reintroduced convoys under armed escort, the first one of which made the journey on Wednesday without incident.

The Sofala provincial police commander, Alfredo Mussa, cited in Friday's issue of the Maputo daily “Noticias”, said the convoys will last for an indefinite period, and the system seeks to guarantee the free circulation of people and goods.

The convoys will only operate during the day, and not at night. There are two convoys in each direction. The first sets out from the Save at 07.00, reaching Muxungue about an hour and a half later. The return convoy leaves Muxungue at 09.00. In the afternoon, the convoy sets off from the Save at around 14.00, with the return trip from Muxungue scheduled for 17.00.

Motorists are not exactly forbidden from making the journey on their own, but Mussa warned that the defence and security forces will take no responsibility for anyone driving along the road outside of the convoys.

But Renamo attacks are not restricted to the Save-Muxungue stretch. The Sofala police announced that on Wednesday there were five attacks on civilian vehicles further north, between the districts of Maringue and Caia.

A father and son of Guinean nationality were in one of the trucks stopped by Renamo. After their ordeal, they spoke to the independent television station STV, and told of how they had heard the gunmen discussing whether to kill them or not. They said there were about ten men who staged the ambush, and they had no doubt they were from Renamo. They wore Renamo's standard green uniforms, and spoke freely about Renamo.

One of the vehicles attacked on Wednesday belonged to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). As a result, according to a report in the independent newssheet “Mediafax”, the FAO office in Maputo has restricted travel by its staff in the central provinces. Only with guaranteed security will FAO personnel be allowed to travel.

“This is a serious incident, and while we do not have right now sufficient information about the circumstances surrounding the event, we are implementing a restriction on travel, with immediate effect, to all field missions in Sofala, Manica, Tete and Zambezia”, said an internal FAO note.

An FAO security official named only as Dauto refused to comment on the note to “Mediafax”. He tried to minimize the consequences of the attack, and claimed that FAO activities were continuing “normally”.

This wave of attacks has stirred the European Union into demanding that Renamo put an immediate stop to its ambushes. An EU source cited by the Portuguese news agency Lusa expressed concern at the “general deterioration” in the security situation, and said Renamo attacks on the roads should “stop immediately”.

This EU diplomat called on all parties to refrain from violence and to rebuild mutual trust as a prelude to dialogue, and demanded an end to threats and intimidation that " aggravate the political environment in Mozambique".

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