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

Reuters

* Army tightens noose around fugitive Renamo chief

* Presidency: Renamo raids threaten national sovereignty

* Suspected Renamo ambushes reported in centre, north

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

By Manuel Mucari

MAPUTO, Oct 30 (Reuters) - Mozambique's Renamo opposition

party said on Wednesday the army was trying to hunt down and

kill its leader after President Armando Guebuza said the former

rebel group was threatening national sovereignty with renewed

attacks.

Renamo chief and ex-rebel commander Afonso Dhlakama is in

hiding in the mountains of central Mozambique after government

troops on Oct. 21 overran his jungle base camp, where he had

been 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 around

Dhlakama and his followers who are holed up in the nearby

Gorongosa mountains, military officials say.

"(Renamo) President Dhlakama is being hunted down with

weapons. The intention is to kill him," Renamo spokesman

Fernando Mazanga told Reuters.

Dhlakama was nevertheless alive and well in a secret

location, he said.

Citing attacks by Renamo partisans since April against

civilians, police and army posts, and road and rail traffic,

Guebuza's spokesman said these constituted "armed aggression

that threatens national sovereignty".

The fighting has raised fears of wider conflict in the

southern African nation which suffered civil war from 1975-1992

between Renamo and the ruling Frelimo party.

Renamo, which has lost every election since 1992 to Frelimo

but holds 51 seats in the 250-member parliament, demands the

government reform the electoral system and halt what it says is

Frelimo's misuse of the police and army for political ends.

There are also concerns that the violence - although mostly

focused several hundred kilometres (miles) north of the capital

Maputo - may worry international investors who are developing

big coal and gas deposits in the former Portuguese colony.

Mazanga said Dhlakama, who has not been seen in public since

the army's capture of his Sathunjira base last week, was still

willing to hold talks with Guebuza, but only if the president

called off the military offensive.

The presidency said Guebuza was also willing to meet the

Renamo leader but the army would continue to defend the nation's

"independence, sovereignty and integrity".

Government troops have also been moving against Renamo

partisans in northern Nampula province.

Suspected Renamo guerrillas ambushed a truck carrying goods

and passengers on Wednesday at Caramaja in Nampula province,

killing two people, a provincial police spokesman said.

In central Sofala province, armed men also suspected to be

from Renamo attacked military escort vehicles, wounding five

people, local media reported. This followed the ambush of a

civilian passenger minibus in Sofala at the weekend, which

killed one person and wounded 10 more.

APPEALS FOR DIALOGUE

Renamo and government spokesmen have been cautious about

giving precise casualty figures, but some Mozambican press

reports have spoken of nearly 60 killed in the recent fighting.

The United Nations, former colonial ruler Portugal, the

Catholic Church and foreign donor governments including the

United States have all called on Frelimo and Renamo to negotiate

their differences and avoid a return to war.

Describing the recent attacks as acts of terrorism, the

Mozambican presidency said Renamo had entered "a situation of

unconstitutionality".

In response, Renamo's Mazanga said the movement was a

legally registered party and an active participant in the

multi-party democratic political system installed by the 1992

peace pact that ended the war.

"Our presence in the national assembly is a mandate that we

were given by the people," he said.

Renamo was however planning to boycott Nov. 20 municipal

elections because it considered the voting system biased.

Joseph Hanlon, a senior lecturer at Britain's Open

University and an expert on Mozambique, said the military

crackdown against Renamo's armed wing looked like a further

erosion 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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