JOHANNESBURG — THE Mozambican government and rebel leaders signed a historic peace accord in Rome yesterday which has raised tentative hopes that the war-torn country can be rescued from a descent into anarchy.
The accord, which centers around a cease-fire in the 16-year civil war between the government of President Joaquim Chissano and rebels under the leadership of Afonso Dhlakama, paves the way for Mozambique's first democratic elections in 1993. The rebel Mozambican National Resistance Movement (Renamo) will end its guerrilla war and take part in the elections.
The cease-fire was signed after a three-day delay during which it appeared that rebel leader Dhlakama made a new set of demands.
"I think the decisive defeat of Unita in the Angolan election gave Dhlakama second thoughts," said a Western diplomat.
But his main objection centered on the control of what the rebels regard as their territory. Mr. Dhlakama insisted that rebels would be able to remain in these areas in the run-up to next year's democratic poll.
"His demands were tantamount to partitioning the country," said the diplomat. "But he settled for a compromise whereby Frelimo [the ruling Mozambican Liberation Front] troops will not be allowed within five kilometers of Renamo bases during the transition period."
Last-minute objections by Dhlakama to a draft accord signed in Gaborone, Botswana, Aug. 7, delayed the signing of the accord in Rome by three days. His main objection centered on the control of what the rebels regard as their territory. He insisted that Renamo be allowed to remain in these areas in the run-up to next year's poll.
Peace in Mozambique, one of the world's poorest countries, could bolster the faltering democratization process in southern Africa and provide a valuable trading partner for South Africa.
It will also release thousands of Zimbabwean troops deployed in protecting the rail line and oil pipelines between Beira, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe, and other trans-Mozambican routes that provide Zimbabwe and Malawi cargo access to the Indian Ocean.
But peace hopes are tinged with concern that rebel leader Dhlakama does not appear committed to the accord and does not exercise sufficient control over Renamo members.
"We have to make the accord work," says a Western diplomat close to the talks. "Mozambique is a potential Somalia unless the war can be stopped soon."
THE accord follows more than two years of Vatican-sponsored talks in Rome in which President Chissano made a string of concessions to the rebels in a bid to end the debilitating war.
Further international support came from the United States, Russia, France, Portugal, Zimbabwe, Kenya, South Africa, and Tiny Rowland, head of Lonrho, a British industrial conglomerate with massive interests in Southern Africa.
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe was involved in intense behind-the-scenes diplomacy to rescue the accord when it looked as though it would collapse Friday and Saturday.
South African Foreign Minister Roelof (Pik) Botha claimed credit for Dhlakama's eventual appearance in Rome. South Africa backed Renamo in the war, but has given assurances that it no longer supports the rebels.
The accord has raised hopes that crucial food supplies could soon be delivered to starving Mozambicans.
Renamo leaders have long refused to allow United Nations food convoys into rebel-held areas of the country, exacerbating the effects of drought and putting at risk the lives of hundreds of thousands of Mozambicans.
The UN World Food Programme has publicly criticized the Renamo rebels for denying safe passage to food convoys. Renamo agreed in the August draft accord to clear the food corridors but later reneged on the undertaking.