MAPUTO, MOZAMBIQUE — Mozambique is bracing itself for attacks by the former rebel group, Renamo, which is threatening an offensive on a scale not seen since the end of the civil war 20 years ago.
Speaking in the capital, Maputo, Renamo’s spokesman, Jeronimo Malagueta said that beginning Thursday, Renamo guerrillas would start blocking the economically crucial Sena railway line used by foreign companies to transport coal to the coast. He also warned people not to use the country’s national road.
According to the Malagueta, Renamo’s men will position themselves to stop the circulation of vehicles transporting people and goods because the government uses these to transport weapons and plainclothed soldiers in order to concentrate them in Sathundjira to attack Renamo’s president.
In October last year, Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama set up camp in Sathundjira, in the remote Gorongosa mountains, sparking fears of a return to military tactics he was supposed to have abandoned 20 years ago.
In November, he vowed to divide the country in two unless the government gave in to a long list of demands. Chief among his complaints was that Renamo had lost out on the spoils of peace, as the country's leaders begin to cash in on a natural resource boom.
In March, a skirmish between Renamo and the police resulted in three civilian deaths. Unknown gunmen opened fire on buses and vehicles traveling the national road, the same stretch Renamo forces are now threatening to disrupt.
The two sides launched a political dialogue to resolve their differences and bring Renamo back into the election process. But Renamo vowed to boycott upcoming polls it insists will be flawed without changes to electoral codes.
Two days ago, a group of men attacked a military arms depot, killing five soldiers guarding it and making off with an unspecified number of weapons.
The government fingered Renamo, saying the attack bore the hallmarks of its civil war tactics.
Renamo spokesman Malagueta denied the group had anything to do with the raid, suggesting maybe bandits or another dissatisfied group had been responsible.
"The government and party in power know who the attackers were, but, in order to deceive the international and Mozambican community they are babbling and contradictory, with Renamo always on the tip of their tongues," Malagueta said through an interpreter.
A question remains about whether Renamo has the military power to carry through on its threats in the face of large numbers of government soldiers already positioned in central Mozambique.
During the cold war, they operated with support from apartheid South Africa and British-ruled Rhodesia. Now, they would have to rely on arms caches they are rumored to have hidden after the civil war or, as Renamo leader Dhlakama bragged last year, they can simply steal the armaments they need from government forces.
Despite the growing tensions, neither side has pulled out of political talks aimed at avoiding a new civil war.