Urge a Prompt, Peaceful Mozambique Vote

The international community can't take sides, but it should insist that Renamo, the rebel opposition, uphold 1992 peace-accord promises

By , the Africa Policy Information Center.

WITH the inauguration of President Nelson Mandela, the world celebrated the end of apartheid in South Africa. But one of apartheid's grim legacies lies next door in Mozambique, where a delicate peace process is in jeopardy, despite the presence of over 6,000 United Nations peacekeeping personnel and the overwhelming desire of its citizens for peace.

The principal threat to peace in Mozambique is the Mozambique National Resistance Movement, known by its Portuguese acronym, Renamo. Gen. Afonso Dhlakama, who led Renamo's 15-year campaign of terror in Mozambique, visited the United States June 5-10 in an effort to rehabilitate Renamo's image.

General Dhlakama has his work cut out for him. Renamo gained international notoriety for brutal massacres of civilians and its strategy of destroying health services and food supplies. Senior US officials at the time said Renamo was responsible for ``one of the most brutal holocausts against ordinary human beings since World War II.'' Between 1975 and 1982 the war claimed more than 700,000 lives out of a population of 16 million; most of these were victims of Renamo.

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During the 1980s the covert military forces of the former South African regime funneled weapons and supplies to Renamo in an effort to destabilize the Mozambican government. The US government refused to join South Africa in supporting Renamo, but a handful of right-wing individuals and groups did.

Now Dhlakama has visited Washington, hoping to clean up his image even as he stalls on full implementation of the 1992 peace accord. The agreement sets the framework for democratic elections this fall, in which Renamo and other newly formed opposition parties are supposed to participate. But Dhlakama has been a master of deception and delay. Demobilization of troops and formation of a new, nonpartisan national army are more than a year behind schedule.

The treaty also calls for immediate freedom of movement and political expression throughout Mozambique, but Renamo routinely denies those rights in areas under its control. The US State Department, in its annual human rights report, noted that throughout 1993 Renamo refused to allow other political parties to campaign in areas under its control and continued to hold civilians captive. A UNICEF report in May estimated Renamo still holds more than 2,000 child soldiers in its bases under heavy guard.

The Mozambican government initially encouraged the peace-brokers' attempts to transform Renamo from a military machine into a peaceful political party. But the effort to change Renamo has become a de facto bias toward the rebel group. As Renamo has made more demands, the international community has preached tolerance to the government and has made payments to Renamo in an attempt to buy peace. The elections, rescheduled from October 1993 to October 1994, are threatened by new delays.

Many in Mozambique fear a repeat of the UN mistakes in Angola, where the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) also evaded provisions of a peace agreement. As Angola prepared to vote, a small UN force made no protest while UNITA failed to demobilize its army, join in a nonpartisan national army, and permit free campaigning in zones it controlled. After losing a September 1992 election, UNITA plunged the country back into war. Learning from that failure, the UN has put a larger contingent of troops in Mozambique, but there is a real danger that it will again go too far in caving in to delays and threats.

Dhlakama has promised not to return to war regardless of the outcome of the vote. The Clinton administration should pressure him to keep that pledge and to comply immediately with the peace accord by fully demobilizing his troops and allowing free political expression.

With his principal patron gone, and in need of new friends, Dhlakama is trying to clean up his image. He should be told instead to clean up his act. It may not be appropriate for the international community to take sides in Mozambique's election, but it is both appropriate and urgent that the US and the UN send a clear message: Mozambicans must be able to vote without interminable delays and the threat of violence. The Opinion/Essay Page welcomes manuscripts. Authors of articles we accept will be notified by telephone. Authors of articles not accepted will be notified by postcard. Send manuscripts to Opinions/Essays, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115, by fax to 617 -450-2317, or by Internet E-mail to OPED@RACHEL.CSPS.COM.

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