JOHANNESBURG — THE tentative cease-fire agreement between the ruling Mozambique Liberation Front (Frelimo) government and the rebel Mozambique National Resistance Movement (Renamo) has prompted cautious optimism in political and diplomatic circles.
The Mozambique accord, which is due to go into effect on Oct. 1, calls for a cease-fire and democratic elections. It was sealed in Rome Friday after three days of talks between President Joaquim Chissano and Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama.
"The best one can say is that it is a sign of hope that an end to the 16-year-old civil war is in sight," says a Western diplomat close to the talks. "But it is going to be a long and bumpy road to peace."
The civil war, which has raged since Mozambique won its independence from Portugal in 1975, has claimed 1 million lives and has been aggravated by a cycle of drought and famine.
Within hours of the accord's being signed it was reported from Maputo that rebels had killed nine civilians in the Maputo district. The attack raised fears in diplomatic circles that Renamo either lacked the will or the ability to deliver the terms of the cease-fire.
The six-page accord calls on both parties to do everything in their power to halt the catastrophe created by the joint effects of drought and war. The historic talks between President Chissano and Mr. Dhlakama followed more than a year of discussions between the two parties in Rome sponsored by the Vatican and brokered by Kenyan mediators.
"It remains to be seen how much control Renamo leaders have over armed bandits who roam the country robbing villagers of their food and possessions and killing them indiscriminately," says another diplomat, skeptical that a cease-fire will end the conflict in Mozambique.
Last week's talks were mediated by Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and facilitated by British industrialist Tiny Rowland, chairman of the Lonrho mining and industrial conglomerate, which has a huge network of investments in Africa.
The negotiations took place against the backdrop of a regional drought that has put an estimated 3 million Mozambican lives at risk in what is already classified as the world's poorest country.
After the talks, Chissano and Dhlakama clinched the deal with a historic embrace and Chissano referred to the rebel leader as "dear brother."
But Chissano made clear that he would have preferred an immediate cease-fire. "It would undoubtedly have been more honorable if our meeting had meant the end of the war ... today. "There is no reason why the guns should not fall silent," he said.
The Renamo leader said it was not sufficient to just call a truce. "You must have the proper mechanisms set up to supervise it." Dhlakama said he was prepared to accept defeat in democratic elections and would be content to lead the political opposition if he lost.
"The trade-off was that Chissano settled for a delayed cease-fire in return for Dhlakama agreeing to elections," the first diplomat said.
According to Western sources, Dhlakama would have preferred a powersharing arrangement whereby Renamo would have taken over some ministries and had immediate access to power in a coalition government.
"In the end, that might be the only way to end the war," a diplomat said. "Renamo stands little chance in free and fair elections."
Renamo is a creation of Rhodesian intelligence which was used to destabilize black guerrillas in what is now Zimbabwe. It was taken over by South Africa's Department of Military Intelligence when Zimbabwe won its independence from Britain in 1980.
The rebel movement - with support from South Africa, Malawi, and Kenya - acquired a life of its own when the Frelimo government began alienating peasants by creating collective villages and pursuing enforced recruitment for the military.
It has been responsible for the indiscriminate massacre of civilians and was compared in a 1988 United States State Department report to the notorious Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.