Nyusi had agreed on the withdrawal in phone conversations with Afonso Dhlakama, leader of the rebel movement Renamo. He listed eight positions around Gorongosa mountain (and near where the Renamo base where Dhlakama is currently living) and said withdrawal from them would be complete on 26 June.
Dhlakama then denied there had been any withdrawal, which provoked Defence Minister Atanasio M’tumuke to promise to take journalists to the abandoned positions.
Wednesday’s visits fulfilled this promise. The armed forces took reporters to the position of Nhariroza, in the Canda administrative post, and to Lourenco, in the Nhandar area. The troops who had been stationed in these places were withdrawn to Satunjira, which currently houses one of the major barracks of the Mozambican armed forces (FADM) in Gorongosa.
Satunjira was once the main base for Renamo’s low level insurgency and Dhlakama lived there in 2012-2013. The FADM occupied it in October 2013, and turned it into one of the army’s main strongholds in the central provinces.
According to the military, Renamo has not demanded the removal of forces stationed in Satunjira, but only those who were in position on and around the mountain. However, although Nyusi spoke of eight positions, in his most recent statements Dhlakama mentioned 26 positions.
The commander of the forces in Gorongosa district, Wandy Wan Bedford, told reporters there had been 120 soldiers at the Nhariroza position and 80 at Lourenco-Nhandar.
He said that Nhariroza had been “an advanced post” which handled all the logistics for Renamo gunmen in the region. Lourenco too had been on the Renamo supply route. Bedford said the defence forces captured both position in May 2016, during the renewed Renamo insurgency.
Speaking in Nhariroza, Bedford said “this was one of the positions we took during our pursuit of the Renamo men, It used to be a logistics base. We had 120 men here, and they have left the area”.
Likewise in Lourenco – when the order came from Nyusi, as commander-in-chief, the troops moved out. “When we abandoned this position, some soldiers went back to their units of origin, and some to Satunjira. As you can see, there are no soldiers here”.
The journalists slept in the Satunjira barracks, about 30 kilometres from Gorongosa town, on Wednesday night. The army promised that on Thursday it will take them to two more positions that have now been abandoned, Mapanga-Panga and Nhautchenge.
The visit was marred by the refusal of the Defence Ministry to allow a correspondent from the Portuguese news agency, Lusa, to join the team. Although he works for Lusa, the journalist in question, Andre Catueira, is a Mozambican citizen who also writes for the weekly paper “Savana”.
A message from Catueira said that the Defence Ministry press attaché told him that Lusa could not be part of the delegation, and that he should return to the city of Chimoio. He was offered a lift back to Chimoio in a police vehicle, but he preferred to phone his wife and asked her to pick him up.Post published in: Africa News