Police undecided on reinstating military escorts

via Police undecided on reinstating military escorts – The Zimbabwean 14/02/2016

Maputo (AIM) – The Mozambican police have not yet decided whether to reinstate a system of military convoys along the stretch of the main north-south highway (EN1) between the Save river and the small town of Muxungue.

It was on this stretch of road, about 12 kilometres from Muxungue, that Renamo gunmen resumed their ambushes of civilian vehicles early on Thursday morning. In this ambush five vehicles came under fire, including a Ministry of Health truck carrying medicines. The vehicles suffered slight damage, and three people in the vehicles sustained minor injuries. The three were cared for in the Muxungue rural hospital, and are not in any danger.

Asked by the independent newssheet “Mediafax” whether the police would now insist on military escorts for vehicles using this stretch of road, the Sofala provincial police spokesperson, Sididi Paulo, said that no decision has yet been taken.

“Teams from the defence and security forces are on the terrain monitoring the situation”, she said. “Depending on the real conditions observed on the ground, we will see whether it is necessary to reintroduce the escort”.

Paulo said that, despite the ambush, vehicles were continuing to move normally along the highway.

The Save-Muxungue stretch of road, about 100 kilometres long, was one of the main theatres of operations in Renamo’s low-level insurgency, mainly in Sofala province, in 2013-2014. After the first ambushes, in late June 2013, the authorities decided the danger was such that vehicles could only use the road in convoy, and under military escort.

This system remained in force until the then President, Armando Guebuza, and Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama signed an agreement on cessation of military hostilities on 5 September 2014.

But Renamo never implemented the key clauses in the agreement, which would have ensured the disarming of the Renamo militia, and the integration of its members in the armed forces (FADM) or police, or back into civilian life.

Reverting to military mode, Renamo has ripped up whatever was left of the September 2014 agreement. The ambush near Muxungue came three days after the Renamo head of mobilization in Sofala, Horacio Calavete, promised to set up armed Renamo road blocks on key highways in the centre of the country.

Meanwhile, Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama has said that he is now willing to meet with President Filipe Nyusi, but hedged this offer round with pre-conditions.

For the first time, Dhlakama was speaking to reporters in his new bush hideout in Gorongosa district, which he moved to in October, after his personal bodyguards were disarmed in Beira. His camp is in the Satunjira region, near a major Renamo military base which the FADM overran in October 2013.

According to a report carried by the independent television station STV, Dhlakama’s conditions for any talks with Nyusi included guarantees for his own safety and that what he called “negotiations” should be mediated by the Catholic Church and by South African President Jacob Zuma.

Dhlakama said the Catholic Church had agreed to mediate – but did not say who in the church had given the promise. He also claimed that Zuma was favourably disposed to the idea.

However, the South African government has denied receiving any approaches from Dhlakama, let alone encouraging him. South African Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, who was in Maputo on Wednesday, flatly denied Dhlakama’s claims.

She pointed out that Mozambique “has a democratically elected government” and that the opposition sits in parliament. Thus, if somebody in the Mozambican opposition were to approach the South African government, the first thing Zuma’s Cabinet would do would be to speak to the Mozambican government. But this did not arise, said Nkoana-Mashabane, since the South African government had not been asked to play a mediating role, either by Renamo or by the government.

Nonetheless Dhlakama insisted that Renamo had sent a letter to Zuma via the South African High Commission in Maputo, and had received an encouraging response. He was thus effectively calling the South African minister a liar.

Meanwhile, speaking at a press conference in the western city of Tete, Agriculture Minister Jose Pacheco, insisted that Renamo must be demilitarized. Pacheco had headed the government team in the dialogue with Renamo which began in April 2013, and was unilaterally suspended by Dhlakama in August last year.

Pacheco blamed Renamo for the displacement of about 4,000 Mozambican refugees into Malawi. The refugees had fled from the Ncondezi region in the Tete district of Moatize, where clashes have occurred between the Renamo militia and the defence and security forces.

The key problem, he said, was Renamo’s illicit possession of weaponry. “In no part of the world are political parties allowed to carry guns”, declared Pacheco.