Mozambique: Two confirmed dead in Nampula clashes, 34 arrests

The number of confirmed deaths in the clashes between the Mozambican police and armed members of the former rebel movement Renamo in the northern city of Nampula on Thursday morning now stands at two.

According to the Nampula police, one of the dead is a police officer and one is a demobilized Renamo soldier. Renamo, however, claims a much higher death toll. At a Thursday afternoon press conference, Renamo general secretary Ossufo Mamude claimed that members of the illegal Renamo security force, known as its “Presidential Guard”, had killed seven policemen, including the local commander of the riot police. He said that only two Renamo members had been injured.

But when a reporter from the independent newsheet “Mediafax” went to Nampula Central Hospital to confirm the death toll, no official hospital source was prepared to speak. One lower level member of the hospital staff, speaking on condition of anonymity, spoke of “several” deaths and injuries.

The number of Renamo members arrested had risen to 34 by the end of the day. 17 were arrested during the shoot-out at the Renamo offices, and the others were picked up during the day. There was no sign of Hermane Buantao, the man whom Renamo has held prisoner since 8 February, accusing him of being a “Frelimo spy”.

Most of the 300 or so demobilized fighters who have camped out for months outside the Renamo office fled to the nearby home of Renamo leader, Afonso Dhlakama. “Mediafax” claims that on arrival at the house, they were given AK-47 assault rifles. If true, this suggests that Dhlakama had a substantial arms cache in his residence.

The police have surrounded Dhlakama’s house, establishing a ring of men about 200 metres distant from the building.

The head of the Renamo “Presidential Guard”, Simao Bute (who is also a Renamo member of the Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic), told a press conference on Thursday afternoon that the riot police had started the shooting, opening fire on “unarmed demobilized soldiers”. He then contradicted this claim of the essentially peaceful nature of the Renamo presence, with a boast that two Renamo guards had opened fire on a police armoured vehicle, killing seven people inside it.

Bute, who claimed to be speaking on behalf of Dhlakama (who has not been seen in public since January), alleged that President Armando Guebuza telephoned Dhlakama in the morning, urging him not to respond to the police seizure of the Renamo office, in order to avoid a bloodbath”.

“We knew he would ring”, claimed Bute. But Guebuza’s office has not confirmed that any such call was made. Dhlakama is fond of claiming that Guebuza talks to him regularly, but the only certain contact between the two men was on 8 December, when they met in Nampula.

He added that Guebuza had apologised for the police action – which seems most unlikely.

Bute said there would be no Renamo retaliation against the police before another meeting between Dhlakama and Guebuza. He claimed that the next meeting is scheduled for April in Nampula.

Bute’s claims contradict those made earlier in the day by Momade, who claimed that the phone call had been made by Dhlakama, not by Guebuza. Dhlakama wanted to know whether Guebuza, in his capacity as commander-in-chief of the deence and security forces, had ordered the assault on the Renamo office. By the time Momade spoke to the press, he said, there had been no answer to that question. Renamo’s next move, he added, would depend on Guebuza’s answer.

He claimed that Renamo members are pressing for retaliatory action. Momade boasted that Renamo “is not afraid of war”, but because it “loves peace” it will not yet act as its members are demanding.

A statement issued on Thursday night by the General Command of the Mozambican police pointed out that the very presence in Nampula of armed Renamo members was flagrantly illegal. They were “irregular forces who are not part of the country’s defence and security system, and constitute a source of insecurity”.

The Renamo demobilised, and members of the “Presidential Guard”, had been camped at the Renamo office since December. The police noted they had assaulted journalists and others who approached the office, and, by seizing Ermane Buantao, had committed the crime of “private imprisonment”.

Local people, unable to go about their normal business because of the armed Renamo presence, had demanded police protection, and so the police had stepped up their presence near the Renamo office in the Nampula neighbourhood of Muatala.

At about 05.00 on Thursday morning, the statement continued, when one police unit was coming off shift, a police vehicle came under fire. One police officer was seriously injured and later died in hospital. It was this attack which led the police to return fire.

The police statement urged Mozambican citizens “to remain calm and not to take part in acts which might degenerate into violence. They should take all measures that may allow the preservation of peace, national unity and public order”.

Post published in: Africa News

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