Fighters from Mozambique’s main opposition party killed 45 government troops in a June 14 firefight in the coal-rich Tete province, the group’s leader told the local MediaFAX news agency.
Afonso Dhlakama, leader of the Mozambican National Resistance, or Renamo, said he ordered his forces to confront government troops 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) from a Renamo base in the Moatize district, MediaFAX reported. Thirty-five members of the state’s Rapid Intervention Unit died on the scene, and 10 more in hospital, he said.
Police spokesman Pedro Cossa said June 16 one member of the unit had died in the clash, with two hospitalized. Antonio Muchanga, a Renamo spokesman, had been first to report the combat earlier that day, without giving any details on casualties. Renamo disputed the outcome of October elections in the southern African country.
“An incident certainly occurred, but I’m doubtful that it’s 45 killed,” said Alex Vines, head of the Africa Program at London-based foreign policy research group Chatham House. “This is brinkmanship by Dhlakama.”
A commission made up of the speaker of parliament and lawmakers from Renamo and the ruling Front for the Liberation of Mozambique, or Frelimo, should investigate the violence, Dhlakama said.
If Dhlakama’s account is accurate, the clash would be among the bloodiest since a peace accord between Renamo and the government was signed in Rome in 1992, ending a 16-year civil war. Renewed hostilities in 2013 killed at least 60 people, according to Chatham House, which estimates 100 died in fighting last year.
The clash was “most likely motivated by Renamo to influence the ongoing negotiations” over granting political autonomy to provinces where Renamo did best in October’s elections, Robert Besseling of political risk consultancy IHS said by phone from London. Tete is one of six provinces that Renamo aspires to govern. The party is using the confrontation to show that “they have the upper hand, and to unnerve investors in a key coal mining province,” he said.
Mozambique may become the third-biggest liquefied natural gas exporter in a decade. Anadarko Petroleum Corp. and Eni SpA are among companies planning gas projects to exploit fields off northern Mozambique and may decide to proceed this year. That would trigger development that could cost as much as $100 billion, the International Monetary Fund estimates.