Mozambique: preparing to dump Moscow for Western aid?

Mozambique's Marxist President and former guerrilla leader Samora Machel is touring Europe - apparently signaling that a new relationship with the West is in the offing.

Mr. Machel's trip - to Belgium, the Netherlands, Portugal, Yugoslavia, France , and Britain - comes at a time when the East African country faces its most damaging drought on record and a worsening conflict with South African-backed rebels.

The Mozambique leader is said to be ready for a frank discussion of his problems during his five-day visit to Portugal - the first since his country obtained independence from Lisbon in 1975. Portuguese officials suggest he is prepared to offer a major political deal to the West.

If the signals are being read here correctly, Mozambique is prepared to shift away from the Soviet bloc in exchange for a large infusion of aid. Such a deal could radically alter the balance of forces in southern Africa.

Machel may be willing to offer such a deal in part because of the seriousness of the drought and food shortages in his country - and in part because of the growing guerrilla challenge to the Maputo government.

In exchange for an end to alleged South African support of the rebel Mozambican National Resistance (RENAMO) - which Machel hopes would come about through European pressure - the President is believed to be ready to live with South Africa.

This would mean tacit acceptance of South Africa's policies, which are repudiated throughout southern Africa, and acceptance of South African investment and development in Mozambique. The deal, as foreseen in Lisbon, would also involve a pledge of political nonalignment by Mozambique.

In return, Machel wants Lisbon's help in committing the West to massive injections of cash and other aid to fight the drought and underdevelopment.

The Portuguese say the Mozambique government has become increasingly irritated with Soviet nonfulfillment of aid promises and with ineffective East bloc cooperation programs.

Machel's foreign minister, Joaquim Chissano, underscored the seriousness of the Mozambique's predicament when he appealed for ''massive and immediate Western investment and aid'' after the party touched down in Brussels Monday on the first leg of the three-week trip.

Mozambican officials have said that 5 million people are affected by the drought and that many face starvation. Thousands, they say, have been existing on leaves and berries. Food aid sent by the West so far has been insufficient, officials say.

In a Lisbon newspaper interview on the eve of his trip, President Machel called on Portugal to build factories and spend money on joint ventures in ''tropical fruit, sisal, cotton, coffee, and tea production.''

Machel's trip is billed here as a confirmation that years of patient Portuguese diplomacy is paying off in a positive post-colonial relationship with former territories.

Machel has described Portuguese investors and aidworkers as ''frontline fighters against hunger, poverty, and underdevelopment in Mozambique.''

But until Maputo can persuade South Africa to drop its alleged substantial backing for RENAMO rebels, it appears fighting in Mozambique will continue. Machel is expected to appeal to the Portuguese for anti-guerrilla training for his troops and more aid for the armed forces. Lisbon gives every indication that it is willing to oblige as long as the training is conducted in Europe.

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