Tension is rising in Mozambique between former civil war political foes, Renamo and Frelimo, with clashes leaving at five people dead -- four police officers and a Renamo commander -- and at least a dozen wounded. The current violence follows months of political wrangling over local elections due later this year.
The latest violence between police and members of the opposition Renamo party took place in the town of Muxungue in the central part of the country, where Renamo enjoys significant support.
It began after police raided Renamo’s headquarters in the town on Wednesday, used tear gas and arrested 15 party supporters. Then early Thursday morning, violence erupted again when Renamo retaliated, attacking a police squadron.
"This morning at 3:40 a.m. they start shooting, for 45 minutes," said Fernando Veloso, a journalist covering the story for local paper Canal Moz, describing what he witnessed. "Who started shooting? I don’t know, I could not see, I was sleeping in my car nearby the place. We ran away because we were afraid and we were hiding in the petrol station because we were afraid of bullets. … Now people are walking around but many people are out of the village.… The majority of the people that live in Muxungue have run away."
The police raid comes after Renamo warned last month it would disrupt municipal elections set for November after its proposals to overhaul electoral laws were not accepted. The party has seen its support slipping steadily and now holds 51 of 250 seats in parliament. It has repeatedly accused the Frelimo party of stealing elections.
Earlier this week, the government warned Renamo against what it called "crossing a line" and said it would protect law and order.
Renamo’s second-in-command, party Secretary-General Manuel Bissopo, is warning that hundreds of war veterans all over the country are waiting for a signal from their leaders to take action.
He says they are just waiting for orders from their president or the general secretary, who could at any moment give an order in order to resolve, for once and for all these problems of robbery and fraud and other issues.
Tension has been building between Renamo and the government since last year, when Renamo’s leader moved to a former civil war base in the bush -- threatening a return to war unless the government renegotiated some of the terms of a peace deal signed in 1992.
Security forces have stepped up their presence around the camp headquarters in the Gorongosa mountain range.