GORONGOSA, Mozambique (AFP) – Mozambique’s civil war commander Afonso Dhlakama has vowed fresh attacks against President Armando Guebuza’s government forces if they do not retreat from positions close to his remote base camp.
“If he does not withdraw starting today, I will order an attack,” said Dhlakama on Wednesday.
Speaking from his heavily defended bush camp in central Mozambique, the leader of the former rebel group Renamo admitted he had ordered a recent attack on a police station that killed four officers.
He said the attack was in response to a raid on Renamo offices that resulted in the arrest of 15 supporters.
“I knew, and I authorised it,” Dhlakama said, adding he told supporters to “make war.”
It was the latest escalation in a long-running feud between the two men who signed the 1992 Rome General Peace Accords which ended a 15-year war in Mozambique that killed one million people.
Analysts have largely dismissed Dhlakama’s threats of a return to civil war as bluster, aimed at regaining some of his significantly depleted political power.
In November, Dhlakama told AFP he was willing to “destroy Mozambique” if Renamo did not get a bigger slice of the country’s growing wealth.
“We prefer a poor country than to have people eating from our pot,” he said.
Recent deadly clashes have raised the spectre that those threats may be realised.
A key rail line passes through the zone, carrying coal from the Moatize region in Tete where Brazil’s Vale and Australia’s Rio Tinto have sizeable investments.
“What have I gained from the international community? I owe them nothing,” Dhlakama said in response to whether he could ensure investors that his men would not attack the rail line.
Dhlakama denied responsibility for a weekend attack against civilian vehicles, in which three people died.
Describing the assault as “an accident” he told reporters: “I’m not here to be investigated, I’m not the commander of a battalion, I am a leader, the president.”
Guebuza on Sunday condemned the “criminal act” against civilians, saying on state radio the government “will continue to fight so that our people can live in tranquility; so that our people are not intimidated; so that our people do not live in fear.”
Dhlakama claimed he had received an offer of talks from Guebuza three days ago.
But he ruled out meeting face-to-face and said there would be no talks at all unless the 15 Renamo men recently arrested were released.
For now there seems to be a tacit ceasefire.
Guebuza “promised to give orders to his men to stop, I promised as well, I gave my word,” Dhlakama said.
“There will never be a war,” he said, adding “only these types of misunderstandings could continue.”
The former guerilla commander turned opposition chief, now in his sixties, quit civilian life in October to return to his civil-war era military base.
He has claimed that his rivals in the ruling Frelimo party have not kept to their agreements under a 1992 peace accord.
After five months in his remote bush hideout, Dhlakama has settled into his new life, building a mud and brick hut to replace his original reed hut.
A dozen armed men guard the ageing leader day and night, constantly on the lookout for assassins.
Government troops — not only specially trained riot police, but soldiers too — are stationed at strategic points.
There is little doubt who really controls the area. Along the dirt track leading to his camp, a contingent of uniformed Renamo soldiers appear out of the long grass that lines the side of the road. No vehicle enters or leaves the zone without Renamo’s knowledge.
Despite its remote location, the area is heavily populated, mostly with subsistence farmers.
Inhabitants of the closest town, Gorongosa go about their daily business despite the tension on their doorstep with vehicles transporting riot police patrolling the streets.
“Conditions don’t exist for people to live in peace,” one man who asked to remain anonymous, fearing persecution from the authorities.
“No one wants war, the only ones who want war are the politicians,” he added.