Mozambique clashes intensify, but threat may be overblown

Mozambique clashes intensify, but threat may be overblownThe Mozambique Liberation Front (Frelimo) political party which emerged as winners from the Southern African country's brutal civil war has been able to attract much-needed foreign investment to the impoverished country.

But now their opponents in the almost two-decade long civil war, the rebel group Renamo (Mozambican National Resistance) is stepping up its campaign of attacks on road and rail infrastructure ahead of November local and next year's general elections, threatening billions of dollars of investment in the country's rich off-shore gas fields, and vast mineral resources, especially newly built coal mine infrastructure.

This week after months of sporadic low-level clashes between Renamo and government forces Mozambique troops attacked the base of Renamo's leader, Afonso Dhlakama in central Mozambique, sending him into hiding.

Renamo said the attack signalled the end of the Rome Peace Accords, the 1992 deal that ended the civil war that began in 1985 during the height of Africa's Cold War proxy fights and killed an estimated 1 million people.

Renamo is now threatening the Sena Railway line which is the sole link for a handful of coal mines operated by Anglo-Australian giant Rio Tinto and Brazil's Vale located in central Tete, a province in Renamo's heartland, to the Beira port.

WSJ.com quotes Markus Weimer, senior analyst at consultancy Control Risks as saying "While it is likely that guerrilla style attacks will mostly target government security services, opportunistic attacks or acts of sabotage against infrastructure including electricity and railway cannot be ruled out. The situation remains dynamic."

Think Africa Press is also skeptical about how much damage Renamo could still do Mozambique arguing that 21 years after the peace accord Renamo is "no longer a serious political force" and the current dispute "has money at its base again":

It would be easy to give Renamo sinecures on state company boards and shares in new mining businesses; a Renamo private security company could be given contracts to guard unimportant state property. Perhaps cars and houses could also be made available; as Renamo becomes marginal, its leadership could slide into a comfortable retirement. But unfortunately, Frelimo is seen as unwilling to share the growing cake; though even within Frelimo, some think Renamo needs to be given money.

Global Post quotes Dr Robert Besseling, senior Africa analyst at Colorado-based risk consultancy IHS, as saying "Renamo does not have the fighting capability to stage large direct attacks":

Nevertheless, the breakdown and skirmishes worry the Southern African regional bloc, SADC (Southen African Development Community). Officials in Zimbabwe, whose ruling Zanu-PF party is a longtime ally of Frelimo, have said SADC would consider sending troops to Mozambique to back the government if necessary.

Image of rescue efforts during floods that devastated Mozambique in February and March 2000 courtesy of krugergirl26