* Deadliest political violence in more than a decade
* Army ready to hit back, but govt may choose to reach out
* Voter registration to start under threat from opposition
By Marina Lopes
MAPUTO, April 10 The deadliest attacks in
Mozambique in more than a decade by suspected opposition gunmen
have rekindled memories of a 1975-1992 civil war and put
pressure on the ruling party to rethink the marginalisation of
its main political foe.
Four policemen and three civilians were killed in ambushes
of a truck and two buses at the weekend - a tactic widely used
by guerrillas in the 1980s - raising fears that the mineral-rich
southern African nation's two-decade peace may be under threat.
Renamo, the guerrilla movement founded around independence
in 1975 with the backing of white-ruled Rhodesia and apartheid
South Africa to take on the Marxist Frelimo party which has
ruled the country ever since, has denied it attacked civilians.
But the group - which has seats in parliament but is
effectively excluded from power in what is a de facto one-party
state - is widely suspected. Military chief Paulino Macaringue
was quoted as saying the army was awaiting orders from President
Armando Guebuza to strike back.
However, several newspaper editorials said that instead of a
military clamp-down, Guebuza should offer an olive branch to
Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama, who has been pushed into the
political wilderness by Frelimo's stranglehold on politics and
the economy since the war ended with a shaky truce.
"The President of the Republic has a vast array of options,
that he doesn't use, to come to an agreement with the leader of
Renamo and make Renamo feel included in the democratic process,"
the Magazine Independente said.
Analysts say Renamo is in no shape to launch widespread
attacks, with at most 1,000 veteran guerrillas at its disposal
and popular support that amounted to only 16 percent of the vote
in 2009 elections.
"It is seriously doubtful that these people could actually
wage a war," said Joseph Hanlon, a Mozambique analyst at
Britain's Open University.
But many Mozambicans are worried that even the slightest
violence could upset the relative political stability that has
underpinned an unprecedented economic boom based on massive
foreign investment in coal mining and natural gas exploration.
The off-shore Rovuma field is believed to hold enough gas to
supply Germany, Britain, France and Italy for 15 years, and
mining giants Vale and Rio Tinto have
invested nearly $10 billion in mines in Tete province, home to
some of the world's largest untapped coal deposits.
The source of the fiercest Frelimo-Renamo tension in over a
decade stems from preparations for next year's presidential
election and Renamo's thwarted attempts to reduce Frelimo's
control of the National Election Commission.
Foreign observers criticised the former Portuguese colony's
last two elections as not fair and lacking transparency.
Dhlakama retreated to the Renamo stronghold, the remote
Gorongosa Mountains, in October, threatening to open guerrilla
Renamo leaders vowed to sabotage the polls after their
electoral reform drive in parliament failed. Although the
presidential election is not until October 2014, voter
registration starts next month and municipal polls are due in
The security forces responded to those threats last week
when police raided Renamo headquarters in the central town of
Muxungue, arresting 15 people and tear-gassing bystanders.
The next day, Renamo gunmen killed four policemen and one of
their own members died in an assault on the Muxungue police
station. Two days later gunmen shot up a gasoline truck and two
buses in the same district, killing three people.
Renamo security chief Osufo Madate said the party had
finally got fed up with being brushed aside by Frelimo, which
controls 191 of the 250 seats in parliament and dominates nearly
every aspect of public life in the nation of 23 million.
"If we continue with our peaceful behaviour, it will mean
the end of us. From now on, whenever we are attacked, we will
retaliate adequately," he told Reuters.
Speaking to reporters this week in the Gorongosa Mountains,
Dhlakama said he had talked to President Guebuza by telephone
but turned down a face-to-face meeting because it "would not
result in anything".
Since the ambushes, police have deployed armed escorts for
vehicle convoys on the highway near Muxungue - an alarming echo
of the civil war on the main road running down the spine of the
South African bus company Intercape, one of whose vehicles
was attacked, said it had suspended its service along the route.
Worryingly for the mining companies in the northern province
of Tete, the Sena line - the only rail link from the coal fields
to the Indian Ocean - runs through former Renamo strongholds and
was frequently attacked and blown up during the war.
"This is not how the country will attract new investment,"
Mozambican analyst Fernando Lima said.
"It is not possible for the country to maintain this spiral
of growth and foreign investment and have this type of news of
armed conflict and photographs of people bleeding."