Just days after the Renamo movement ended its peace accord, Zimbabwe has urged that the ex-rebel group in Mozambique end its fighting.
In what is an attack that has sparked fears across Mozambique of a possible return to civil war, on Tuesday, gunmen attacked a police station just after Renamo declared that the 1992 peace accord was no longer valid. The attack on the police station, which occurred in the central town of Maringue, prompted officers to flee their posts. According to Maringue’s administrator, Antonio Absaloa, there were no reported casualties however schools in the region remain closed in fears that further clashes may occur.
The town of Maringue is located about 35 kilometers (20 miles) from Renamo’s base in the central Gorongosa mountains. The Renamo base was seized on Monday by Mozambique’s military, however the ex-rebels have indicated that the operation was aimed at killing its leader, Afonso Dhlakama. Mozambique’s President Armando Guebuza however has stated that country’s soldiers acted in self-defence after Renamo militants fired at them. The military raid on the bush camp prompted the Renamo to end the peace accord late on Monday.
Although the attack, and subsequent end of the peace accord, has sparked fears throughout the country and region that the ex-rebels may launch another civil war, on Tuesday an independent negotiator indicated that Mozambique’s President and representatives of Renamo were determined to avoid a return to war. Lourenco do Rosario had indicated that Renamo “reaffirms that it does not want to return to war,” instead the opposition group has demanded that government forces pull back from its base in the Gorongosa mountains. According to the independent negotiator, Renamo has also pledged that in exchange, it will not restart hostilities.” In turn, Mozambique’s President Guebuza has also renewed his commitment, stating that “dialogue is the best way forward despite the skirmishes.”
Founded one year after Mozambique gained its independence from Portugal in 1975, Renamo (the Mozambican National Resistance Movement) was formed as an anti-Communist rebel group that was backed by South Africa’s former white-minority regime. The group opposed the newly formed Marxist-leaning government, which was led by the Mozambique Liberation Front (Frelimo), resulting in tensions between the Frelimo and Renamo which later escalated into a civil war that was fought between 1977 and 1992. Backed by colonial Rhodesia, Renamo was used in order to destablize the Frelimo government, which supported the Zimbabwe liberation fighters. Once Zimbabwe gained its independence in 1980, Renamo formed an alliance with South Africa’s apartheid regime, which would later supply the group with arms. During the sixteen year bush war, more than a million people were killed. The 1992 Rome peace accord ended the war and paved the way for multi-party elections, which were held in 1994. During the nationwide elections, Renamo lost, later becoming Mozambique’s official opposition. During the 2009 polls, Renamo had attained only 16.5 percent of the vote, losing to President Armando Guebuza. This loss prompted Renamo’s dejected leader, Afonso Dhlakama, to threaten fresh fighting. By October 2012, in the face of dwindling political support, Dhlakama set up a camp in the Gorongosa mountains, where he undertook the training of former guerrilla fighters,who at the time, numbered no more than a thousand. In November of last year, Dhlakama indicated to the public that he was willing to “destroy Mozambique” if Renamo did not get a larger share of the country’s growing wealth. Although the rebel group, turned opposition, has repeatedly insisted it gain greater inclusion in the Frelimo government, including an overhaul of electoral laws, the Frelimo government has rejected its pleas, including a plea to renegotiate the terms of the 1992 peace accord. Currently, the Renamo movement is though to have about 1,000 fighters and fifty-one MP’s.
Since the end of the civil war, Renamo has repeatedly contested the country’s elections, however it has failed to dislodge Frelimo from power. In turn, they have complained that the Frelimo government is determined in holding on to power, which has resulted in the failure to create conditions for free and fair elections. While the Renamo have pulled out of the peace accord, its fifty-one MP’s have not withdrawn from parliament. Mozambique is due to hold local elections in November, with presidential and parliamentary elections set to take place next year.