Mozambicans see echoes of civil war
17 April 2013, 10:16
Muxungwe - While much of Mozambique enjoys the fruits of
peace, in one central town recent violence has left unsettling echoes of a civil
war that ended more than two decades ago.
The streets of Muxungwe are largely empty, except, that is,
for the presence of heavily armed and camouflaged commandos on patrol.
They are on the lookout for further attacks by ex-guerrillas
from Renamo, who earlier this month stormed a local police station killing four
Renamo's leader Afonso Dhlakama says the assault was in
response to a teargas and rubber bullet-filled police raid, in which 15 of his
supporters were arrested.
But it was also the result of years of seething tensions
between Dhlakama and the Frelimo-led government.
The two groups are old adversaries. From 1977 to 1992 they
fought a civil war that killed around one million Mozambicans.
Since then Dhlakama has become more and more marginalised,
more and more disgruntled and more and more willing to pick a fight with his
old Frelimo enemy.
Civilians in Muxungwe are the collateral damage of the
latest front in that rivalry.
As the soldiers poured in, most of Muxungwe's residents
Classrooms are deserted, everyone, including teachers fled
"There was a war here. We suffered here. I fled to the
bush because of what happened here," says Jose Joao.
While many residents are still camped out in the open, too
afraid to return, Joao is one of those who are being forced by hunger to make
their way home.
A woman who makes a living selling cashew nuts to passing
motorists and buses has also made her way back.
"We came out of the bush because there is nothing to
eat there. We have to sell in order to eat. The children were crying because of
She is too afraid to give her name.
"The guys with guns are here to keep us safe," she
whispers as another soldier passes.
Thirteen year old Mathias has spent his time collecting
plastic bottles by the side of the road while he waits for school to reopen.
"It was a war here," he said.
Metres away the police station where Renamo launched its
fierce attack in the early hours of April 4th, is now heavily fortified.
A brand new armoured anti-riot vehicle mounted with a
high-calibre machine gun faces on to the main road.
The attack lasted 45 minutes, witnesses said, but sporadic
shooting carried on for at least two days and the reverberations continue to be
Afraid and ashamed
Everyone here knows their history. Renamo's leader, Afonso
Dhlakama grew up in the district. The shots that started the civil war were
fired just one hundred kilometres away.
And the community believes at least 200 Renamo members are
still hiding in the thick landmine-laden bush close to the town.
"People were afraid and confused, worried they would start
war," says resident, Mathias Javier who says local authorities used the
pretext Renamo members were cutting sticks in the bush to use as weapons to
launch the raid.
"They are afraid and ashamed. They know they will be
killed by police if they come back," says Javier.
For the first time since the civil war, civilians have again
become a target in the simmering hostilities between Renamo and the government.
Several attacks on civilian vehicles in the area have been
blamed on Renamo - after armed men in Renamo uniforms shot and killed three
people in a truck and injured two passengers in an overland bus on April 6th.
Renamo denies these claims saying the assailants donned
their uniforms in an effort to discredit them, a tactic they say dates back to
the civil war.
Vehicles are now returning to the area, but police and the
army maintain a heavy presence, searching buses entering and leaving the zone.
Meanwhile Dhlakama has indicated he is open to a cease-fire
as long as the government pulls back troops from around his camp in the nearby
Gorongosa mountains and detained Renamo members are released.
While Renamo and the President Armando Guebuza's government
have begun talking to each other in the capital, Maputo, the residents of
Muxungwe say they can't be sure of anything.
"Yes they are talking at the moment - Guebuza and
Dhlakama. The problem for us is we don't know if it is over or not," says