Maputo, 28 Sept (AIM) – The Mozambican police are sticking to their version of the clash in the central province of Manica on Friday, claiming that the bloody events started when militiamen of the rebel movement Renamo attacked a civilian minibus and killed its driver.
Speaking to reporters, the Manica provincial police commander, Armando Canhenze, said that the militiamen in the motorcade carrying Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama, ordered the minibus, which was going in the opposite direction, towards the Manica provincial capital, Chimoio, to stop, and shot dead its driver.
Moments later, police were sent to this spot on the road, near Amatongas, in Gondola district, to restore order, and engaged in an exchange of fire with the Renamo militia, leading to 19 deaths on the Renamo side.
However, according to passengers in the minibus, the shots did not come from anyone in the Renamo motorcade, but from unidentified assailants on the side of the road. This is what passengers told at least two journalists, Domingos Boaventura of the Sunday paper “Domingo”, and Andre Catuera, of the independent weekly “Savana”.
Furthermore, the passengers did not identify two separate incidents – an attack on the minibus, followed by a shootout between Renamo and the police. They said it was all part of the same bursts of fire.
The police said that shooting continued until about 22.00 – about ten hours after the first shots were fired. This was certainly not a continuous battle – when the journalists visited the scene on Friday afternoon, they reported no shooting.
The minibus, out of control after the death of its driver, crashed into a petrol tanker. During the clash, Renamo abandoned ten vehicles, two of which the police later towed into Chimoio. The others were set on fire. The police version is that angry members of the local public burnt them – but Domingos Boaventura claimed they were hit by rockets.
The whereabouts of Dhlakama himself are currently unknown. He had intended to drive to the northern province of Nampula, but the clash made this plan impossible. The Renamo national spokesperson, Antonio Muchanga, told reporters on Saturday that Dhlakama was safe and in good health, and was still somewhere in Manica.
Canhenze said the police are looking for Dhlakama in order to protect him. “We are concerned about the Renamo leader”, he claimed, “because his whereabouts are unknown. Perhaps he is hungry and without shelter”.
“We are looking for him throughout Gondola district to rescue him, if he is in an uncomfortable situation”, Canhenze added. “As leader of the opposition, we have to give him proper conditions”.
Gondola district is on the main road from Zimbabwe to Beira, and the clash led to an interruption of traffic along the road throughout Friday afternoon and evening. But by Saturday morning traffic along the road had returned to normal.
The shooting had terrified people living in the nearby village of Zimpinga who abandoned their homes, and either spent the night in the bush, or made their way to the houses of relatives or friends in Gondola town or Chimoio.
A local pastor, Lazaro Damiao, was one of the few who dared return to Zimpinga on Saturday, but only for a few hours. Cited in Monday’s issue of the independent daily “O Pais”, he said “My wives and children are horrified by what we saw that day. Some bullets hit part of the wall of our house. We saw several dead and injured people a few metres from our house”.
“Fear still dominates all of us”, he said. “We shall remain in the bush or in the houses of our relatives, until we are sure that it’s all really over”.
The police say that, in addition to the 20 known dead, six people, all civilians, were injured. The bodies of the dead have been taken to morgues in Chimoio and Gondola.