Washington woos Marxist government of Mozambique. US discredits Renamo rebels, aids refugees and rebuilding

The Reagan administration is pursuing peace and reconstruction in civil-strife torn Mozambique, as it is in Angola and Namibia. But on Africa's east coast, the United States supports Mozambique's Marxist government rather than the rebels - the reverse of its policy in Angola.

``Our major contribution so far to ending the fighting there has been to expose the antigovernment Renamo for what it is,'' says a well-placed administration official.

He refers to an April State Department report charging Renamo (Mozambique National Resistance Movement) with systematic abuse and killing of civilians in its struggle with the government. The study estimated that up to 100,000 civilians may have died at Renamo's hands in recent years.

``The report shamed Renamo's supporters into reassessing their stands,'' the official says.

``The Reagan administration urges a peaceful settlement in Mozambique,'' adds a ranking US official, ``but Renamo's behavior has put it `beyond the pale.''' He says Mozambique's Marxist government has demonstrated a clear desire to build ties with the West and to alter earlier policies that led to economic and political disaster.

In the US, a number of congressmen who earlier called for US dialogue with Renamo have been practically silent on Mozambique since April. In South Africa, US officials say, the civilian leadership was reportedly taken aback by the report and surprised by the degree of support South African military and intelligence units were still providing to Renamo.

According to reports reaching Washington, that backing was further restricted, though there may still be some communications and intelligence support. Renamo was originally sponsored as a mercenary force by white-controlled Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), and South Africa subsequently became its primary external supporter.

A Renamo supporter in Washington says, however, that the State Department report is backfiring. Thomas Schaaf, executive director of the Mozambique Research Center, says it has piqued the interest of Western journalists who are now visiting Renamo-controlled areas and seeing for themselves what the rebel group is about.

Mr. Schaaf and Renamo spokesmen deny the allegations in the US study, arguing that it was based on faulty methodology and that no attempt was made to visit Renamo-controlled regions. They say if Renamo was not popular, it would not have survived so long nor achieved such military success.

US refugee specialists say the US study on Renamo alerted Mozambique's neighbors, burdened with the influx of starving refugees, that they had to provide asylum or risk sending the fleeing civilians back to die. United Nations refugee officials have just revised the estimate of refugees in neighboring Malawi to 650,000 out of an estimated 900,000 refugees that have fled Mozambique. Estimates range to more than 3 million citizens displaced inside the country. From 1 to 2,000 refugees enter Malawi each week.

``The real question is when do we reach the numbers which the precarious system out there can't handle,'' says one well-placed US specialist.

The US contributes significantly to aiding the displaced. It has pledged $77 million in food and development aid inside Mozambique for next year. President Reagan has just authorized dispersal to the UN of $11 million of the last $12 million in the US emergency refugee-relief fund. This new money will go for refugees fleeing fighting in Mozambique, Somalia, and the Sudan.

In Mozambique itself, the US is committed to helping the Marxist government move away from a state-controlled economy.

Washington is also working, along with Japan and European allies, on rebuilding the transportation and economic infrastructure throughout the region to end what one key US official calls a ``crippling dependence'' by Mozambique and its neighbors on South Africa. The US has promised more than $500 million in aid for a five-year regional project (under the acronym SADCC). Other Western countries have promised $700 million.

But the fighting in Mozambique must end, so development projects are not just the next target in the war, US officials say.

Washington is urging the government to pursue nonmilitary solutions to end the fighting. It also is supporting military aid to the government by US allies, such as Britain. The US is not contemplating any program of its own, officials say. A US warship is, however, scheduled to make the first port call to independent Mozambique later this month.

The US is also encouraging a warming trend in South African-Mozambican relations as a way to reduce tensions in the area and encourage economic reconstruction.

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