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Mozambique rebel leader accuses soldiers of violating ceasefire

By Adrien BARBIER | AFP |

Mozambique’s rebel leader Afonso Dhlakama has accused government forces of violating a ceasefire his armed group Renamo had declared following a surge in deadly violence last year.

Mozambique's opposition leader Afonso Dhlakama
Mozambique’s opposition leader Afonso Dhlakama

Dhlakama, who only gives rare interviews by phone from the central Gorongosa mountains where he has been holed-up since October 2015, claimed the government was not taking its ceasefire overtures seriously.

The army “ambushes, kidnaps and detains” rebels and Renamo supporters, he told AFP in an interview on Friday.

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“There have been deaths,” he claimed but gave no details.

On January 3, Dhlakama announced a two-month ceasefire, extending a week-long truce he had declared in late December — a move welcomed by Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi.

Worsening clashes between the ruling Frelimo party government and rebel group Renamo last year had revived the spectre of Mozambique’s civil war that ended more than 20 years ago.

Dhlakama’s Renamo is an armed insurgent group that led a 16-year rebellion and an opposition political party that took up arms again in 2013.

The death toll in the conflict is unknown but Dhlakama claims that “hundreds and hundreds of people have died between the start of 2015 and the end of 2016”.

– ‘Trying to kill Dhlakama?’ –

While admitting the army has not staged any offensive against his bush military base for a month, Dhlakama castigated what he described as “reconnaissance missions” around the camp where he is hiding.

“What are they doing there? Are they still planning to kill Dhlakama?” asked the 64-year-old rebel, who often speaks about himself in the third person.

“Are they trying to find the river where Dhlakama is drinking from to poison it, or the roads we use to plant anti-personnel landmines?”

Dhlakama, whose Renamo party is the main opposition in Mozambique, retreated in October 2012 to his hideout in Gorongosa with 800 former guerrillas demanding a greater share of power.

In 2013 tensions resurfaced with Renamo fighters again taking up arms against Frelimo, accusing the ruling party of enriching itself at the expense of the southern African country.

On the eve of the October 2014 general elections Renamo and the government signed a ceasefire.

But Renamo refused to accept the results of the 2014 elections when it was beaten once more at the polls by Frelimo, which has been in power since the former Portuguese colony’s independence 40 years ago

– ‘Won’t give up on truce’ –

Dhlakama has accused the army of not only targeting Renamo members but civilians too.

“The armed forces go to the villages, open fire to disperse the population, and then ransack the houses making off with chickens and goats, which is typical of Frelimo,” he claimed, adding that women had been beaten and houses torched.

“Either Frelimo does not know how to control its troops or there is a clear lack of will,” he said.

Abuses have also been reported to international organisations by Mozambicans who have sought refuge in neighbouring countries.

Authorities in December said more than 3,000 people fleeing the conflict now live in government camps, while the UN refugee agency says another 8,600 have been forced to cross the border to Malawi and Zimbabwe.

In spite of the allegations, Dhlakama has no intention of calling off the ceasefire, which he admits he unilaterally proclaimed in a bid to reopen peace negotiations.

The peace talks with international mediators resumed in May last year but failed to prevent the escalation of tensions and by mid-December the mediators quit the country.

“I must speak to President Nyusi in the coming days because we are still waiting for him to give the signal for the return of mediators,” said Dhlakama.

The rebel leader said he will leave his mountain base only to sign a peace agreement.

“We are not going to give up on the truce. But every day someone calls me up to ask me to extend it beyond March 4. And I always tell them that it will depend on the progress of the negotiations.”