* Rio suspends exports on 'coal corridor' railway
* At least two killed in ambushes in central Mozambique
* Army chief of staff replaced
By Marina Lopes
MAPUTO, June 26 Mining company Rio Tinto
has suspended coal shipments from northwest
Mozambique after the opposition Renamo party, a former guerrilla
group, threatened to disrupt the Sena railway "coal corridor" to
the Indian Ocean.
Although no attacks have been reported on the line, which
snakes through 600 km (375 miles) of jungle from the coal fields
in Tete province to the port of Beira, gunmen killed at least
two people in ambushes on main roads in the region this week.
The attacks started two days after a public declaration of
hostilities by Renamo last week that raised fears of a return to
civil war in the southern African nation, two decades after the
end of a 16-year conflict in which one million people died.
"We have paused our operations on the rail line while we
assess the current situation in Mozambique," Rio Tinto said in a
statement to Reuters.
Production at the company's Benga mine was continuing, it
Brazilian rival Vale, which is investing $4
billion in coal mines near Tete and is the main user of the Sena
line, said it was still using the track but had increased
"We are alert, observing the events, avoiding unnecessary
exposure in zones of potential conflict and interacting with
other companies looking to obtain the best information
possible," Vale said in a statement.
Rio's decision is the first concrete sign of economic
fallout from the campaign by Renamo, which says it has missed
out on an economic boom in the last decade based on massive
foreign investment in the coal sector and off-shore natural gas.
The former guerrilla movement, founded in the mid-1970s with
the backing of white-ruled Rhodesia and apartheid South Africa,
is demanding political reforms, including a shake-up of the
election commission, as a condition for halting its attacks.
NEW ARMY CHIEF
For the last two months, Renamo and Frelimo, the formerly
Marxist ruling party, have held talks about talks on political
reform but made no headway.
Speaking on Tuesday, the 38th anniversary of independence
from Portugal, President Armando Guebuza played down the
seriousness of the violence, saying a few isolated incidents did
not mean an end to peace.
"The government remains firm in its determination to find an
answer to these questions through dialogue," he told reporters.
The army is already escorting convoys of vehicles on main
roads in central Sofala province and foreign embassies have told
tourists to avoid all but essential travel to the region,
Renamo's wartime stronghold.
However, in a sign of a possible olive branch from the
security forces, Army Chief of Staff General Paulino Jose
Macaringue was replaced by General Graça Tomas Chongo, a general
believed to have good relations with Renamo.
"He enjoys their support," said Mozambique expert Alex Vines
at London's Chatham House think tank. "The government is
considering its options, while seeking further talks. The
dangers for both sides of miscalculation are high."
Mozambican media said passenger services had also been
reduced on the Sena line, which runs past Renamo's base in the
remote Gorongosa mountains, from where guerrillas launched
frequent attacks on the tracks during the war.
Analysts say a slide back into the all-out conflict that
crippled Mozambique in its initial years of independence is
unlikely, not least because Renamo lacks the capacity for a
However, Renamo is thought to have as many as 1,000 men
under arms with the ability to wage a limited insurgency that
could damage infastructure and unnerve investors lining up to
pour billions of dollars into the energy and mining sectors.