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Renamo 'a spent force of ageing fighters'

24 October 2013, 09:36

Maputo – Mozambique's ex-rebellion is too weak to force a new civil war and its recent return to arms is a desperate bid to grab a share of the energy bonanza reshaping the country, analysts said.

Renamo's announcement this week that its peace deal with the ruling Frelimo was dead came amid a spate of tit-for-tat skirmishes that marked one of the worst flare-ups since the 1992 end of a 16-year civil conflict.

Mozambique's main opposition group is demanding more political and military representation but Joseph Hanlon of Britain's Open University argued "the current dispute has money at its base".

Renamo lost the war to Frelimo, lost again in peacetime elections and is now afraid of missing out on the windfall from some of the world's largest untapped coal and gas reserves.

"Renamo and its military men see the Frelimo leadership with big cars, expensive houses, and businesses," Hanlon said.

"As the gap between rich and poor increases in a way that could not be imagined at the time of the peace accord in 1992, key Renamo figures want to be on the side of the wealthy."

With Brazilian, Australian and Indian energy giants setting up shop in a country long reeling from a war that killed around one million people, Mozambique's growth rate is now among Africa's highest at around 7 percent.

"So now the temptation is to link mineral deposits and international interest in Mozambique, the growing economy, as having triggered the reaction from Renamo," said Trevor Maisiri, of the International Crisis Group think tank.

The ex-Communist ruling party's leaders have capitalised on the new riches, but "Frelimo is seen as unwilling to share the growing cake," said Hanlon.

In November 2012 Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama returned to his erstwhile base camp in the central Gorongosa mountains and retrained some of his veterans.

Over the past six months his militants have attacked police posts and civilian vehicles on the main north-south highway.

Officially Renamo is demanding changes to the electoral law and its fighters' absorption into the government forces, but over 20 rounds of peace talks since December have collapsed.

Renamo is a spent force

While Renamo has legitimate concerns, like Frelimo's politicisation of the state bodies and biased electoral system, Dhlakama lacks "clear vision of what he hopes to accomplish", said Hanlon.

With talks floundering and violence simmering, the government chose to limit the risk of an escalation by seizing Dhlakama's base on Monday, according to Charles Laurie from Maplecroft risk analysts.

Frelimo wanted to "contain the capability of Renamo of engaging in violence and then suppressing that capacity while trying to seek a broad solution at the bargaining table," he told AFP.

Renamo has made inflammatory statements in the past, but Monday's declaration that peace was over followed the dramatic government raid on the rebel's sanctum.

"One by action, the other through a press conference said 'we're back in 1992'," said Elisabete Azevedo-Harman, from UK-based think tank Chatham House.

Both denied wanting to return to war through a negotiator's comments Tuesday, but there is still suspense over what will happen next.

Analysts agree Renamo is a spent force of ageing fighters not thought to stretch far beyond Dhlakama's personal armed guard of under 500 men, though political support remains strong in the north.

"Renamo retains the capacity to undertake isolated guerilla-style attacks but it doesn't possess the military capability or indeed the social support to undertake any kind of broader offensive," said Maplecroft's Laurie.

Rather, it seems the movement might target key infrastructure in central Mozambique's Sofala province to embarrass the government with international investors.

"The peace agreement annulment could impact coal and cargo shipments to Beira Port or along the Sena railway line," said Robert Besseling, Africa analyst at IHS Country Risk.

Anglo-Australian Rio Tinto and Brazil's Vale use the railway to export coal from Tete in the northwest. It was rebuilt only recently after Renamo blew up the line in the civil war.

Meanwhile attacks on the main highway would threaten passenger and cargo transport, added Besseling.

Gas fields off the shore of northernmost Cabo Delgado province should be safe, according to Chatham's Azevedo-Harman.

"Renamo support never was really very strong in the area where the gas is," she said.

The latest flare-up has caused alarm among foreign diplomats but observers are split as to whether the investment pouring into Mozambique will take a hit.



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