Army occupies RENAMO base

The Mozambican armed forces (FADM) on Monday occupied the bush headquarters of the former rebel movement Renamo at Satunjira, in the central district of Gorongosa, where Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama has been living for the past year.

At a Maputo press conference on Monday night, the national director of defence policy in the Defence Ministry, Cristovao Chume, said the FADM overran Satunjira in response to yet another Renamo attack on a military unit.

The FADM says that there were three Renamo attacks on military patrols near Satunjira on Thursday and Friday. Following the Friday clashes, the FADM moved heavy artillery to the entrance to the Satunjira base, and warned that any further attack would be met with swift retaliation.

Chume said that at around midday on Monday the FADM unit once again came under Renamo fire. There was a vigorous FADM counter-attack, and the Renamo gunmen fled towards the part of Satunjira where Dhlakama was living.

The FADM pursued them, and occupied all of Satunjira. Dhlakama and his men melted into the bush, and Chume said he did not know the current whereabouts of the Renamo leader. He said that the FADM had suffered no losses in taking the base and, as far as he knew, neither had Renamo.

Chume pointed out that the clashes over the last few days followed a series of other Renamo attacks in Sofala province, including the raid on a police station in Muxungue in April, an attack against an FADM arsenal in Savane in June, and ambushes on the main north-south road between Muxungue and the Save river.

The priority now, he said, was to restore normal life in the Satunjira region. The army has urged local villagers who had fled into the bush to return to their homes and fields, and has appealed for calm

Chume stressed that the occupation of Satunjira does not mean that the country is at war, He admitted that there might be Renamo retaliation, but pledge that the armed forces “will continue to play their role in the defence of sovereignty and territorial integrity”.

Renamo claimed that the purpose of the FADM action was to assassinate Dhlakama. The Renamo national spokesperson, Fernando Mazanga, told reporters that “the communist regime of Frelimo always fought to liquidate him (Dhlakama) and his collaborators. The objective of Frelimo and of its President, Armando Guebuza, is to assassinate President Dhlakama, in order to subjugate the will of the Mozambicans, because he never allowed Mozambicans to be chained to the ideology of a single party”.

However, Mazanga also claimed that Dhlakama is alive and “in a safe place”, though he admitted to difficulties in communicating with him.

Mazanga described the occupation of Satunjira as “the end of multi-party democracy in Mozambique”, and claimed that “the irresponsible attitude” of Guebuza, as Commander-in-Chief, had put an end to “the understandings of Rome”.

Mazanga was referring to the peace agreement signed between the government and Renamo in Rome on 4 October 1992. But neither the Satunjira clashes nor anything else can end the peace agreement, because it has already been fulfilled. All the clauses in the accord about troop cantonment and demobilization, forming a single national army, and holding democratic elections have been achieved. The more general clauses in the agreement (on democracy, political parties, and rights and freedoms, for example) have been incorporated into the Mozambican constitution.

Mazanga said that Dhlakama had not yet ordered the Renamo fighters to respond, and had merely told the civilian population to leave Satunjira. He added that Dhlakama “is losing control of the situation”, and that whatever might happen in the future “should not be imputed to the Renamo President since he has done everything “to maintain calm, peace and multi-party democracy”.

The first sign of the Renamo retaliation mentioned by Chume came in the small hours of Tuesday morning, when, according to the electronic version of the paper “A Verdade”, a Renamo group attacked the police command in the neighbouring district of Maringue. This is the district that housed the Renamo general staff headquarters during the closing years of the war of destabilisation.

The Maringue district administrator, Absalamo Chabela, confirmed to the television station TIM (Independent Television of Mozambique) that an attack had occurred, but gave no details.

“A Verdade” also reports a strengthening of military escorts on the stretch of the main north-south highway between the Save River and the small town of Muxungue. This was the stretch of road which Renamo threatened to shut down in June. These threats were followed by ambushes in which two people, a truck driver and a driver’s mate, were killed.

Last Thursday, Dhlakama urged Guebuza to end the military escorts, and promised that no Renamo member would launch any further attacks on the road. But the government is clearly not convinced that promises by Dhlakama will be honoured. No further attacks on the road have been reported.

The claim is now being made repeatedly in social media that the 1992 peace accord allows Renamo to maintain its own armed force. But what the relevant clause in the accord states is “Renamo shall be responsible for the immediate personal security of its top leaders. The Mozambican government shall grant police status to the Renamo members charged with guaranteeing such security”.

This clause was one of a series of “specific guarantees for the period between the ceasefire and the elections”. It was therefore limited in time and ceased to have any effect after the first multi-party elections, held in October 1994.

Nothing in the peace accord allows a political party to maintain its own private army, much less set up military bases, over 20 years after the agreement was signed.

Post published in: Africa News

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