* 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
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
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."