Maputo — Mozambican Defence Minister Salvador M'tumuke has denied claims by Afonso Dhlakama, leader of the Renamo rebels, that Mozambican forces disobeyed the instructions given by President Filipe Nyusi to withdraw from positions near the Gorongosa mountain range, in the central province of Sofala.
Speaking to reporters in Doa district, in Tete province, M'tumuke said the government forces had indeed withdrawn from the eight positions in Gorongosa that Nyusi had mentioned in his speech on 25 June, the anniversary of Mozambican independence.
The forces withdrew from the last of these positions on 26 June, he said. “We prepared the withdrawal as from 23 June”, added M'tumuke. “We were just waiting for the announcement by the Head of State to withdraw from those positions”.
He expressed concern at Dhlakama's allegations that the defence and security forces had disobeyed an order given by their commander-in-chief. He suggested setting up a commission formed by government and Renamo officers and journalists which would confirm on the ground the withdrawal of the government forces.
Last Thursday, Dhlakama had claimed that most of the government forces in Gorongosa had not moved an inch. He alleged that on 26 June troops only moved from two positions - from the Lourenzo region to the Canda administrative post, and from Nharirose to another position that was still in Gorongosa.
Speaking by telephone from the Renamo base in Gorongosa where he is living, Dhlakama said “they didn't withdraw from any position” - although he immediately contradicted himself by saying there had been movement in at least two positions.
M'tumuke categorically denied Dhlakama's claims. He said the withdrawal is not from all of Gorongosa district but only from “the positions we occupied during the theatre of operations in Gorongosa, exactly those that are on the list announced by the President”. (By “theatre of operations” the Minister was referring to the recent low level insurrection by Renamo, which has centred on Gorongosa).
Renamo, M'tumuke said, has now requested the withdrawal of the defence and security forces from other positions that were not on Nyusi's list, and the Minister did not know why this new demand had been raised. These positions were ones where the defence and security forces had been stationed since before the Renamo insurrection.
“I guarantee that you don't have to worry about security”, M'tumuke told the reporters. “We only withdrew from the positions we had occupied during our pursuit of the Renamo gunmen”. Positions occupied before the outbreak of the latest round of fighting were not covered under the withdrawal plan.
M'tumuke said Dhlakama ought to hand over at least some of his weapons to show that he was willing to disarm.
“He stayed and lived with us for 20 years (from the 1992 peace agreement until 2013) and he was fine”, said M'tumuke. “But now he runs into the bush. What for? Maybe he's afraid of his own men. It's an internal problem”.