Fears of a new civil war in Mozambique as thousands flee mounting hostilities
Vanduzi, Mozambique — Sheltering from rain in a small tent, Titus Albaosui is trying to escape the fighting between government troops and rebel forces raging across central Mozambique.
There are fears of a new civil war with this year’s sharp rise in hostilities. More than 15,000 people have fled to government-run camps, relatives’ homes or across the border to Malawi and Zimbabwe.
Clashes between longtime foes the Frelimo government, Renamo rebels and an elected opposition party have revived the spectre of a new civil war. The previous civil war ended more than 20 years ago.
"There is a war there — we could no longer live in our homes," said Albaosui, a 24-year-old farmer who left almost everything to flee 130km to a camp in Vanduzi after his uncle was killed.
"Every day after 5pm we had to go sleep in the forest," he said. "It was no longer possible to stay (in the village), so we fled. If you take things, you’re asked ‘where are you going?’" Albaosui, who arrived at Vanduzi about two weeks ago with his wife and father is one of 3,100 people staying in five government camps, according to official figures.
The authorities think several thousand more people have escaped the conflict zone to stay with relatives elsewhere.
The UN refugee agency says 8,600 people have also fled from the conflict in neighbouring Malawi and Zimbabwe.
Mozambique is still recovering from its bloody 1976-92 civil war in which a million people died during sporadic fighting between Frelimo and Renamo.
But tension returned in 2013 and Renamo fighters again took up arms against Frelimo, accusing the ruling party of enriching itself at the expense of the country.
Starting as a low-level insurgency, attacks have rising this year.
"Since May-June, there has been a sharp increase in the number of people fleeing from attacks by Renamo gunmen," said Teixeira Almeida, provincial director of the National Institute for Disaster Management.
Many displaced people would contest Almeida’s claim that Renamo is primarily responsible for the unrest, saying government soldiers often treat local villagers as rebel sympathisers.
"Sometimes the army beats the population," said Pedro Zungo, a 40-year-old displaced farmer at the Vandusi camp.
"When they arrive at a village and they don’t find anyone from Renamo they assault people and say, ‘You are Renamo, because when we get here there’s nobody else.’" A local Renamo representative also accused the government of running the camps only for Frelimo supporters.
"If in a camp you are a member of the opposition you do not survive," said Caetano Augusto.
"The political situation gets worse and worse. Our party representatives are being persecuted, they die every day," he said. The soldeirs "have no shame, they do it in broad daylight, people get kidnapped anywhere".
The Vanduzi camp has 40 tents and a basic health clinic for its 800 inhabitants, but the drinking water tank has been empty for two weeks and makeshift toilets were wrecked in a storm.
The fighting has often focused on Mozambique’s main roads, with Renamo attacking government convoys and civilian vehicles, and soldiers ruthlessly targeting suspected Renamo rebels in nearby villagers.
The death toll is unknown, but scores of people are reported to have been killed this year, including Frelimo and Renamo politicians.
With more people fleeing the area, tentative moves were made in recent months to hold peace talks under international mediation co-ordinated by the EU.
But the peace process was suspended indefinitely after setbacks including the killing of a Renamo negotiator and the failure of a planned meeting with Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama in the Gorongosa mountains, where he hides out.