Mozambican opposition leader escapes unhurt after convoy attack

A photo taken on October 15, 2014 shows Afonso Dhlakama, a former Renamo rebel chief turned opposition leader, who escaped unhurt after his convoy was hit by gunfire on September 13, 2015 (AFP Photo/Gianluigi Guercia)

Maputo (AFP) - Mozambique's opposition leader Afonso Dhlakama escaped unhurt after his convoy was hit by gunfire as he returned from a rally in the central Manica province, police said Sunday.

Authorities initially said the bullets that struck three cars in the former Renamo rebel commander's convoy on Saturday came from police shooting at a motorist who refused to stop at a road block.

"Police ordered a car (not linked to the Renamo convoy) to stop for a routine check. But the car didn't stop, so the police opened fire," Manica province police inspector Manuel Lourenco told AFP.

"However, as the Renamo convoy was passing by they received some bullets," said Lourenco.

But police refused to give further details on the shooting and a senior officer subsequently denied any official involvement.

"The shooting came from unidentified individuals," Armando Mude, commander of the Manica province police, told AFP, adding he was unaware of any Renamo members admitted to any of the hospitals in the province.

Dhlakama said he believes he was the target of a deliberate act.

"This was a planned attack," Dhlakama declared at a press conference held in Chimoio a few hours later, according to local media.

He said Mozambique's ruling party "Frelimo is behind it."

Dhlakama's car was not hit, but three of those that were following his were struck, leaving three wounded, according a local journalist who witnessed the attack.

Renamo waged a 16-year civil war against the formerly marxist Frelimo government. That conflict ended in 1992 after an estimated one million people had been killed.

After a 20-year hiatus, Renamo supporters began a low-level insurgency in late 2013, attacking buses and cars on the main north-south highway after government forces raided Dhlakama's bush hide out.

A deal was reached last year to end that second, less bloody, conflict.

Despite the September 2014 ceasefire, low key skirmishes between Renamo and the military have resumed in recent months in the central coal-rich Tete province, forcing some people to flee to neighbouring Malawi, according to local reports.