Maputo - Some of the more than 3 000 refugees fleeing renewed fighting in Mozambique have accused government troops of killings, sexual assaults and razing villages suspected of harbouring opposition fighters, according to a journalist who visited the refugees in Malawi. The Mozambican government denies the charges.
More than 20 years after the end of a decades-long civil war, sporadic fighting has again flared up between the government and fighters loyal to the opposition forcing growing numbers of refugees to cross the border into neighbouring Malawi. The ruling party, Frelimo, has been in power since Mozambique's independence from Portugal in 1975, but the opposition, Renamo, is urging an independent government in the north where it has support.
Mozambicans who have fled to Kapise village in Malawi's southeastern Mawanza district say that they are escaping an undeclared war across the border in Mozambique's northern Tete province, said Fungai Caetano, a Mozambican journalist working in the area for the Malacha newspaper.
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Refugees charged that Mozambican government forces killed, raped, burned houses and barns, said Caetano.
The Mozambican government has denied that conflict is forcing thousands to flee, with officials saying the refugees are actually Malawians in search of food aid.
"In Mozambique there is no war," said Jorge Jasse, head of the local government in the border town of Zobue, according to Caetano.
At least 3 100 Mozambicans have fled to neighbouring Malawi since mid-2015, most of them women and children, according to the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR. Refugees arriving in Malawi told aid workers that government forces burned down villages believed to harbour opposition Renamo fighters, UNHCR spokesperson Karen de Gruijl said in a statement. UNHCR said it has not been able to confirm the accuracy of these allegations.
Some Malawian aid workers estimate that the number of Mozambican refugees could be as high as 4 000 including those living in other villages.