Mozambique’s escalating violence forces thousands to flee

AFRICA

 

VANDUZI – Sheltering from rain in a
small tent, Titus Albaosui is trying to
escape the fighting between
government troops and rebel forces
raging across central Mozambique and
raising fears of civil war.
This year has seen a sharp escalation
in violence, and more than 15,000
people have been forced to flee to
government-run camps, relatives’
homes or across the border to Malawi
and Zimbabwe.
The clashes between longtime rivals,
the Frelimo government and Renamo,
an armed insurgent group and also an
elected opposition party, have revived
the spectre of Mozambique’s civil war
that ended more than 20 years ago.
“There is a war there — we could no
longer live in our homes,” said
Albaosui, a 24-year-old farmer who left
almost everything behind to escape
130 kilometres to a camp in Vanduzi
after his uncle was assassinated.
“Every day after 5pm we had to go
sleep in the forest,” he told AFP. “It
was no longer possible to stay (in the
village), so we fled. If you take things,
you’re asked ‘where are you going’.”
Albaosui, who arrived at Vanduzi
around two weeks ago with his wife
and father, is one of 3,100 people now
living in five government camps,
according to official figures.
The authorities estimate several
thousand more internally displaced
people have escaped the conflict zone
to stay with relatives elsewhere.
The UN refugee agency says 8,600
people have also fled from the conflict
in neighbouring Malawi and Zimbabwe.
Mozambique is still recovering from its
bloody 1976-1992 civil war when one
million people died during years of
sporadic fighting between Frelimo and
Renamo.
But tensions have returned since 2013,
and Renamo fighters again took up
arms against Frelimo, accusing the
ruling party of enriching itself at the
expense of the southern African
country.
– Old enemies –
Starting as a low-level insurgency,
attacks have escalated over this past
year.
“Since May-June, there has been a
sharp increase in the number of people
fleeing from attacks by Renamo
gunmen,” Teixeira Almeida, provincial
director of the National Institute for
Disaster Management, told AFP.
Many displaced people would contest
Almeida’s claim that Renamo is
primarily responsible for the unrest,
saying that government soldiers often
treat local villagers as rebel
sympathisers.
“Sometimes the army beats the
population,” Pedro Zungo, a 40-year-old
displaced farmer living at the Vandusi
camp, said.
“When they arrive at a village and they
don’t find anyone from Renamo, then
they assault people and say ‘You are
Renamo, because when we get here
there’s nobody else’.”
A local Renamo representative also
accused the government of running the
camps only for Frelimo supporters.
“If in a camp, if you are a member of
the opposition, you do not survive,”
said Caetano Augusto.
“The political situation gets worse and
worse. Our party representatives are
being persecuted, they die every day,”
he said, adding that government forces
“have no shame, they do it in broad
daylight, people get kidnapped
anywhere.”
The Vanduzi camp has 40 tents
pitched in straight lines and a basic
health clinic for its 800 inhabitants, but
the drinking water tank has been
empty for two weeks and makeshift
toilets were destroyed in a storm.
The fighting has often focused on
Mozambique’s main roads, with
Renamo attacking government
convoys and civilian vehicles, and
soldiers ruthlessly targeting suspected
Renamo rebels in nearby villagers.
The death toll is unknown but scores
of people are reported to have been
killed this year, with both the Frelimo
and Renamo parties also suffering
assassinations of local politicians.
With more people fleeing the area,
tentative moves were made in recent
months towards holding peace talks
under international mediation
coordinated by the European Union.
But the peace process is now
suspended indefinitely after setbacks
including the killing of a Renamo
negotiator and the failure of a planned
meeting with Renamo leader Afonso
Dhlakama in the Gorongosa mountains,
where he lives in hiding.000_jd1fuQ

 

 

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