MOZAMBIQUE: ALARM BELLS RING. “BLACK THURSDAY” RIOT KILLS 38 AS FRELIMO AND RENAMO MOVE APART

Eight years after peace was signed between FRELIMO, the party ruling Mozambique since 1975, when the country proclaimed independence from Portugal, and the opposition force RENAMO, the two factions move further and further apart. What is a more serious sign, the division of the parties is a geographical split, a North (RENAMO)/South (FRELIMO) divide. The instability in the country has already spilled over into violence in the centre of the country, in which the government police forces fought battles with armed RENAMO members, some of whom are believed to be former soldiers fighting for this organization, first against Portugal (since the early 1960s and later against FRELIMO, after 1975). There have been many cases of cruelty, including mutilation : some policemen who were captured had their genitals cut off, were killed, their bodies were burnt and thrown down wells. The problem stems from RENAMO never having recognised the results of the December 1999 elections, which were made public in January, 2000. The international observers declared the elections to be “fair and free” and President Joaquim Chissano was re-elected with 52% of the vote, against 47% of Afonso Dhlakama, the leader of RENAMO. The parliamentary election was also won by FRELIMO (48% against 38%). RENAMO accused the government of fraud and refused to collaborate in a national parliament. Later, the movement started to create parallel governments in the provinces in which it won the election. The terrible floods of February, 2000 which killed thousands and caused 650,000 homeless, 150,000 of whom remain totally dependent on international aid programmes because they lost their livelihoods, caused an interval in the political heating process but the final straw for RENAMO was in October, when government forces started to disarm the movement, seizing large numbers of arms in its stronghold, Beira, in the centre of the country. The revolt of RENAMO was seen last Thursday, in which 38 people lost their lives in scenes witnessed too often on the African continent. The European Union considers President Chissano as a “good example” of democracy because he insists on trying to continue the option of dialogue: “I do not impose any conditions. I am ready for a meeting, for any dialogue. I am ready and willing to take initiatives to obtain peace for our country. The common denominator is that the people of Mozambique want peace and never again want war” said President Chissano recently. President Chissano’s choice of diplomacy has earned him a place in EU favour. Poul Nielsen, the European Union Commissioner for Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific countries, said : “Mozambique is a pioneer case of modernization, democracy and openness to the civilian society”. The EU has given Mozambique 11.4 billion roubles in aid this year. Portugal, the former colonial power, is trying to keep the two sides talking in an attempt to avert a catastrophic situation like the one in Angola, another former colony, with the country split in half and with little or no hope of peace in the near future. The words of a Mozambican Bishop, in a letter from the Mozambique Episcopal Conference, sum up the tragedy that this nation faces if war is not avoided: “ Just when we were drying the tears caused by the natural disasters, it is when violence falls among us and kills”.

Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey, Lisbon

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