Ex-rebel leader pledges peace after disputed Mozambique vote

Jinty Jackson
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Mozambique's rebel leader Afonso Dhlakama (C) claimed the government was not taking its ceasefire overtures seriously

Mozambique's rebel leader Afonso Dhlakama (C) claimed the government was not taking its ceasefire overtures seriously (AFP Photo/GIANLUIGI GUERCIA)

Maputo (AFP) - Former Mozambique rebel leader Afonso Dhlakama pledged Saturday that his Renamo movement would not return to war despite disputing this week's presidential and legislative elections.

"Violence is not necessary," he told a news conference, saying the southern African country had seen enough war.

"I want to promise... this will not ever happen again," Dhlakama said.

With a third of the ballots counted after Wednesday's elections, the long-ruling Frelimo party led with 62 percent of the vote while Renamo trailed with about 32 percent.

A Renamo spokesman said on Thursday that the party rejected the result and claimed victory, sparking fears of renewed violence in the resource-rich but impoverished southern African country.

Dhlakama, breaking his silence for the first time since the election, said that while the vote was not free and fair the party wanted to negotiate a resolution with the government for the sake of democracy.

Renamo, which waged a 16-year war against Frelimo before signing a peace deal in 1992, ended a recently renewed low-level insurgency just weeks ahead of the election.

Dhlakama, who has lost every election since the end of the civil war, said "these were the fifth elections with fraud," but added:"We are investigating (to) find a solution."

He cited instances of ballot stuffing, shootings by the police and alleged thousands were unable to vote because their names did not appear on the electoral roll.

- 'Extremely dangerous for Africa' -

Foreign election observers have reported pre-polls violence and biased media coverage, but said the vote was credible, paving the way for Frelimo's Filipe Nyusi to become the next president.

Dhlakama criticised "some foreigners who have, shamefully, already pronounced these elections free and transparent, especially SADC (Southern African Development Community)".

"This is extremely dangerous for the African continent," he said. "Our continent is known for corrupt leaders, robbers and criminals. We cannot do this, we must save Africa, and my country Mozambique."

It was not entirely clear what steps Dhlakama intended to take following his condemnation of the vote.

"It will depend. There needs to be a negotiation here with a solution for Mozambicans," he said.

Part of the deal to end the latest conflict involved disarming Renamo fighters. But that process was due to kick off only after the elections.

Analysts, however, played down the threat of a return to serious violence.

"Renamo has rejected every election since the beginning," said Joseph Hanlon, a lecturer at Britain's Open University and the author of a popular newsletter on Mozambican politics.

"I do not expect significant violence in the near future because they want to continue negotiating with government."

But, he added, the actions of the new president could be critical.

"A lot will depend on what Nyusi does, because you cannot continue to marginalise a party which gets a third of the vote," Hanlon said.

"He has to give something significant to Dhlakama as well as money."

Any unrest could be disastrous for a country looking forward to the benefits of a mineral resource windfall as gas deposits are exploited.

The vote took place against a backdrop of rising discontent, with rapid economic growth failing to benefit the bulk of a population that is among the world's poorest.

Frelimo has ruled Mozambique since independence from Portugal in 1975. Incumbent President Armando Guebuza was prohibited by the constitution from running for a third term.