Maputo - Clashes in Mozambique's second city of Beira
between rival party supporters and riot police injured more than 20 people and
stoked tension ahead of local elections this week that will test opposition to
the Frelimo government.
In the municipal elections on Wednesday, the Frelimo party
which has ruled the southern African state since independence in 1975 faces an
emerging challenge from the smaller Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM), after
the main opposition party and former rebel group Renamo decided to boycott the
Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama is a fugitive after the
government army overran his jungle camp last month, following sporadic ambushes
and skirmishes by Renamo guerrillas which have persisted mostly in central
Sofala province. Dhlakama accuses Frelimo of monopolising political and
These attacks have revived painful memories of the
devastating 1975-1992 civil war between Renamo and Frelimo and foreign donors
have urged President Armando Guebuza's government to preserve peace like
The unrest is also worrying companies who are developing
Mozambique's big coal and gas deposits.
Despite Renamo's boycott, campaigning for Wednesday's local
elections had been relatively peaceful until Saturday, when riot police in the
port of Beira fired teargas at a rally of supporters of MDM leader Daviz
Simango, who is the mayor of Beira, witnesses said. Frelimo party vehicles
trying to drive through or past the MDM crowd had been stoned.
MDM partisans then attacked the nearby Frelimo party
headquarters, burning several cars. Frelimo's candidate, Jaime Neto, told local
television he was injured in the arm.
A spokesperson for Beira's central hospital, cited by the
Portuguese news agency Lusa, said at least 26 people were treated for injuries.
A spokesman for Mozambique's Interior Ministry declined to comment when asked
about the incident.
On Wednesday, when voters cast their ballots to elect mayors
and local representatives of 53 municipalities across the former Portuguese
colony, MDM will be seeking to hold onto the two city mayorships it already
holds in Beira and Quelimane, and win more, even taking on Frelimo in Maputo.
"These elections will show the strength of the
opposition," Joseph Hanlon, a senior lecturer at Britain's Open University
and an expert on Mozambique, told Reuters. Guebuza's government faces criticism
over corruption and for not using aid and resource revenues to reduce still
Hanlon said MDM needed a good showing to prove itself a
viable political force to challenge Frelimo in presidential and legislative
elections due in October next year, especially if Renamo boycotts them too.
MDM, formed by ex-Renamo members, has eight seats in the
national parliament against Renamo's 51 and Frelimo's 191.
Honking horns, waving flags and distributing T-shirts and
posters, Frelimo and MDM election convoys criss-crossed the capital Maputo at
the weekend, without incidents in that city.
Also on Saturday, suspected Renamo gunmen killed a
government soldier and wounded several more in an ambush in central Mozambique,
local TV reported. One attacker was killed.
Renamo, which was originally created by the Rhodesian secret
services and backed by South Africa's apartheid-era military during the civil
war, is no longer viewed as having the armed capacity to fight an all-out
conflict any more.
"Innocent people are dying"
But hit-and-run ambushes by its guerrillas on the major
north-south road in central Mozambique have already hurt tourism and there are
fears these small mobile groups might also threaten coal export corridors and
the activities of foreign companies working to develop gas reserves.
"The Frelimo government has tried a limited military
solution but that has been unsuccessful in preventing attacks by small Renamo
cells - fighters numbering less than 10 - in rural parts of central and
northern Mozambique," Mark Schroeder of risk consultancy Stratfor told
With most Mozambicans strongly opposed to any idea of a
return to war, MDM is calling for dialogue.
"Renamo and Frelimo, they only know how to fight,"
said Silverio Ronguane, MDM candidate running for the Matola municipality, a
major suburb of Maputo.
"Innocent people are dying ... they could end it if
they wanted," Isabel, a 43-year-old nurse in Maputo who only gave her
first name, told Reuters, commenting on the unrest.
Guebuza has offered to meet Dhlakama to discuss their
differences but the two sides have failed to agree on a venue, and Renamo wants
security guarantees and foreign observers.