Mozambique's Renamo says leader "hunted", gov't cracks down

Reuters

* Army tightens noose around fugitive Renamo chief

* Presidency: Renamo raids threaten national sovereignty

* U.N., foreign governments appeal for peaceful dialogue

By Manuel Mucari

MAPUTO, Oct 30 (Reuters) - Mozambique's Renamo oppositionparty said on Wednesday the army was trying to hunt down andkill its leader after President Armando Guebuza said the formerrebel group was threatening national sovereignty with renewedattacks.

Renamo chief and ex-rebel commander Afonso Dhlakama is inhiding in the mountains of central Mozambique after governmenttroops on Oct. 21 overran his jungle base camp, where he hadbeen living for a year after withdrawing from city life.

This week the army captured another Renamo jungle camp in central Sofala province, tightening a military noose aroundDhlakama and his followers who are holed up in the nearbyGorongosa mountains, military officials say.

"(Renamo) President Dhlakama is being hunted down withweapons. The intention is to kill him," Renamo spokesmanFernando Mazanga told Reuters.

Dhlakama was nevertheless alive and well in a secretlocation, he said.

Citing attacks by Renamo partisans since April againstcivilians, police and army posts, and road and rail traffic, Guebuza's spokesman said these constituted "armed aggressionthat threatens national sovereignty".

The fighting has raised fears of wider conflict in thesouthern African nation which suffered civil war from 1975-1992between Renamo and the ruling Frelimo party.

Renamo, which has lost every election since 1992 to Frelimobut holds 51 seats in the 250-member parliament, demands thegovernment reform the electoral system and halt what it says isFrelimo's misuse of the police and army for political ends.

There are also concerns that the violence - although mostlyfocused several hundred kilometres (miles) north of the capitalMaputo - may worry international investors who are developingbig coal and gas deposits in the former Portuguese colony.

Mazanga said Dhlakama, who has not been seen in public sincethe army's capture of his Sathunjira base last week, was stillwilling to hold talks with Guebuza, but only if the presidentcalled off the military offensive.

The presidency said Guebuza was also willing to meet theRenamo leader but the army would continue to defend the nation's"independence, sovereignty and integrity".

State media said Renamo guerrillas ambushed a civilianpassenger minibus in Sofala province at the weekend, killing oneperson and wounding 10 more.

Local media reported that armed men suspected to be fromRenamo ambushed military vehicles in Sofala on Wednesday,wounding five people. Government troops have also been movingagainst Renamo partisans in north Nampula province.

APPEALS FOR DIALOGUE

Renamo and government spokesmen have been cautious aboutgiving precise casualty figures, but some Mozambican pressreports have spoken of nearly 60 killed in the recent fighting.

The United Nations, former colonial ruler Portugal, theCatholic Church and foreign donor governments including theUnited States have all called on Frelimo and Renamo to negotiatetheir differences and avoid a return to war.

Describing the recent attacks as acts of terrorism, theMozambican presidency said Renamo had entered "a situation ofunconstitutionality".

In response, Renamo's Mazanga said the movement was alegally registered party and an active participant in themulti-party democratic political system installed by the 1992peace pact that ended the war.

"Our presence in the national assembly is a mandate that wewere given by the people," he said.

Renamo was however planning to boycott Nov. 20 municipalelections because it considered the voting system biased.

Joseph Hanlon, a senior lecturer at Britain's OpenUniversity and an expert on Mozambique, said the militarycrackdown against Renamo's armed wing looked like a furthererosion of Dhlakama's position.

"Dhlakama ends up with less power and ability to negotiate,"he said. "It won't help his electoral potential."

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