Mozambique rivals to meet to cement ceasefire

Jinty Jackson
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President of Mozambique Armando Guebuza (R) greets a surpporter on his arrival in Chimoio, capital of the Manica Province, on October 30, 2013

President of Mozambique Armando Guebuza (R) greets a surpporter on his arrival in Chimoio, capital of the Manica Province, on October 30, 2013 (AFP Photo/Ferhat Momade)

Maputo (AFP) - Mozambique President Armando Guebuza and his rival Afonso Dhlakama will meet face-to-face this week to cement a peace deal aimed at ending two years of hostilities and clear the way for elections.

Dhlakama, head of the main opposition and revived rebel group Renamo, has agreed to come out of hiding from the central Gorongosa mountains to campaign in upcoming polls, according to the Italian embassy, which is acting as a mediator.

The announcement came on the opening day of parliamentary and presidential election campaigning, and just a few days after negotiators from Renamo and the Frelimo-led government signed a peace deal.

Frelimo is almost certain to beat its erstwhile civil war foe for the fifth time in the October 15 vote.

"Dhlakama showed his availability to return to Maputo on Thursday to ratify the agreements reached with the President of the Republic Armando Guebuza and start his election campaign," the Italian embassy said in a statement.

Renamo is a former rebel group that entered politics after a peace deal ended a 16-year civil war in 1992.

But in 2012, the party accused Frelimo of reneging on the deal, and took up arms again.

Dhlakama returned to the bush and gunmen thought to belong to Renamo waged a low-level insurgency, attacking buses and cars on the main north-south highway in April last year.

Government forces overran the Renamo base camp in the central Gorongosa district in August last year, sending Dhlakama into hiding.

The new ceasefire deal grants Dhlakama amnesty and allows the integration of his forces into the national military.

Until now, he has refused to come out of hiding until parliament ratifies the terms of the deal and international observers guarantee its implementation.

Opposition lawmaker Ivone Soares confirmed her leader would travel to Maputo for the encounter.

"President Guebuza is interested and president Dhlakama is also interested, so on Friday they will meet in Maputo," Soares told AFP on Sunday.


- A new opposition -


It had been feared that the conflict would derail the presidential vote, which only three candidates will contest after gathering the 10,000 nomination signatures needed to qualify.

Frelimo's candidate, former defence minister Felipe Nyusi, spoke in northern city Nampula to launch his bid for the presidency on Sunday.

Daviz Simango of the Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM) was also planning an appearance in the densely populated north.

The MDM, currently the third-largest party in the country, may well become the main opposition in upcoming elections.

Recent opinion polls, including one by Maputo's Polytechnic University, show the party to be polling ahead of Renamo.

The poll, conducted in July and published this week, suggested Frelimo's Nyusi would win 47 percent of the vote, followed by the MDM's Simango with 35 percent.

Dhlakama trailed with 10 percent, but his party dismissed the survey as "flawed".

Outgoing President Guebuza won three quarters of the votes in 2009 elections, while Dhlakama garnered only 16 percent and Simango eight percent.

Guebuza, finishing up his second term, is constitutionally barred from running for a third.