Mozambique’s factions talk peace amid conflict

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Conflict between Mozambique’s old civil war adversaries is increasingly becoming an international concern, with thousands of people fleeing violence into neighboring Malawi and Zimbabwe and the country’s rival factions agreeing to negotiate with the help of foreign mediators.

Recent violence between the government of the ruling Frelimo party and the opposition Renamo movement does not match the intensity of the war that ended with a 1992 peace deal in Rome after the deaths of up to 1 million. But the instability has hurt tourism and other economic activity at a time when Mozambique, which has big reserves of coal and other energy sources, is struggling with heavy debt, a weak currency and a global fall in commodity prices.

Much of the violence has involved Renamo attacks on transport routes and other infrastructure near the group’s traditional strongholds in central Mozambique, though it is far less formidable as a fighting force and it has been active in parliament. The group alleged fraud in 2014 elections that were won by Frelimo, a former Marxist guerrilla movement that took power after independence from Portugal in 1975.

Renamo has proved that it can create a “sense of destabilization that gives them a lot of political leverage” in any talks with the government, Gustavo de Carvalho, senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria, said Friday in a telephone interview.

Renamo, which did not fully disarm after the 1992 deal, wants a bigger role in the government and economy, as well as more autonomy in areas it dominates. The government recently agreed to the opposition group’s demand that international mediators be involved in talks; the European Union’s office in Mozambique said it had received a letter signed by President Filipe Nyusi inviting the EU to assist with the dialogue.

“Brussels will reply as soon as possible,” the EU office said in an email to The Associated Press.

Under longtime chief Afonso Dhlakama, Renamo has also proposed that the Roman Catholic church and the office of South African President Jacob Zuma mediate, the Mozambique News Agency reported.

“If the problem is to have somebody else present while we are discussing, then let Dhlakama come with whoever he likes, and we will talk so that he ends the attacks,” the agency quoted Nyusi as saying last month.

Hardliners in the Mozambican government view Renamo as “armed bandits” and may favor tougher military action, said Justin Pearce, a University of Cambridge scholar who has done research in central Mozambique. However, the government is refraining from bellicose rhetoric and is sensitive to international opinion, he said.

“It needs to be seen to be negotiating,” Pearce said at a conference on Mozambique in South Africa’s capital, Pretoria, on Thursday. “Mozambique still has to keep an eye on donors and lenders.”

More than 10,000 Mozambicans have crossed into Malawi since December, forcing the government there to reopen a refugee camp that previously housed refugees from Mozambique’s civil war, according to Bestone Chisamile, Malawi’s secretary for home affairs and internal security.

“Just last week, we traveled to Maputo where we have agreed to come up with a mechanism that will allow for the repatriation of these refugees,” Chisamile said.

Last month, four Malawian trucks carrying petroleum as well as six other vehicles carrying goods from South Africa to Malawi were ambushed and burned while passing through Mozambique’s Tete Province.

Some 500 families from Mozambique have crossed the border into Zimbabwe’s Manicaland province, the online edition of New Zimbabwe, a weekly newspaper published in Britain, reported this week. It quoted provincial official Mandy Chimene as saying numbers are expected to increase.


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