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Tuesday October 22, 2013 MYT 2:07:33 AM
Tuesday October 22, 2013 MYT 2:08:27 AM
by manuel mucari
MAPUTO (Reuters) - Mozambican government forces captured a jungle base of the opposition Renamo movement in the centre of the country on Monday, forcing the group's leader Afonso Dhlakama to flee, the defence ministry and Renamo said.
The old civil war foes battled just a month before municipal elections in the southeastern African nation which Renamo has promised to boycott and disrupt because it accuses the ruling Frelimo party of monopolising political power.
The government takeover of the base in the Gorongosa region of Sofala province, some 600 km (375 miles) north of the capital Maputo, followed clashes in the area between the army and Renamo, a guerrilla group that fought Frelimo in a 1975-92 civil war before making peace and becoming a political movement.
Renamo raids in April and June had already raised fears for stability in Mozambique, which has one of the fastest-growing economies on the continent and is attracting multi-billion dollar foreign investments in coal and offshore gas discoveries.
Renamo spokesman Fernando Mazanga said that government soldiers bombarded Renamo's Sathunjira base with heavy weapons before occupying it on Monday.
He said Dhlakama, who had returned to the former Renamo civil war stronghold a year ago with a force of armed bodyguards because he feared for his safety, managed to escape to an undisclosed location.
"He's called me and says that he's in good health," he said.
Defence Ministry spokesman Cristovao Chume told reporters government forces took control of the base in response to an earlier attack on an army post by Renamo fighters. He said Dhlakama had fled along with other occupants of the base.
Neither Chume nor Mazanga gave any details of casualties.
President Armando Guebuza's government has accused Renamo of trying to destabilise Mozambique and drag it back to war. It has sent extra troops into Sofala to protect rail and road traffic against ambushes.
Renamo raids in April and June in Sofala killed at least 11 soldiers and police and six civilians and forced a temporary suspension of coal exports sent by rail to the coast. Road traffic and the tourist trade were also affected.
Renamo was formed as an anti-communist rebel group in the 1970s by the secret service of a then white-ruled neighbour, Rhodesia, now called Zimbabwe, and has been the main opposition to Frelimo, a former Marxist movement, since the end of the war.
Renamo was later adopted by the apartheid-era South African military but abandoned the war in a 1992 peace pact to become the leading opposition party in Mozambique, which gained independence from Portugal in 1975.
Renamo has lost every election to Frelimo since the peace deal. But it accuses Guebuza and his ruling party of hogging political and economic power through a one-sided electoral system and by harassing its opponents.
Frelimo is expected to dominate November's municipal elections and a nationwide general election in just over a year. There are concerns the renewed fighting could derail the resources investment bonanza in a country where most of the population still remains desperately poor.
(Additional reporting and writing by Pascal Fletcher in Johannesburg; Editing by Ed Stoddard and Mark Heinrich)
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