The Mozambique insurgent group Renamo has launched a campaign of ``pure terror'' in eastern Zimbabwe, according to informed United States officials. The brutal attacks are aimed at stopping Zimbabwe's support for the government of Mozambique, they say. The most reprehensible incident so far, they say, was on Nov. 19 near Chipinge in eastern Zimbabwe. A school on a tea plantation was attacked. Five children were killed, 9 others had their ears and noses cut off, and 20 were kidnapped, presumably to Mozambique, the officials say.
The mutilated children were released with the warning that more would follow if Zimbabwe continues to intervene in Mozambique's civil war, a senior official says. There was no robbery involved, and all evidence suggests Renamo was responsible, officials add.
But Renamo supporters contacted here were skeptical of the report. A congressional aide, who believes the US should deal with Renamo, says it is extremely hard to say who commits such acts.
Thomas Schaaf, director of the pro-Renamo Mozambique Research Center, suggests the reported incident was part of a broader effort by Zimbabwe and Mozambique to discredit Renamo (known formally as the Mozambique National Resistance Movement). Elements in the Zimbabwe Army have committed similar atrocities in western Zimbabwe, he says.
Renamo, which is waging a militarily effective insurgency in Mozambique, announced in June that it would begin attacks in Zimbabwe, officials say. The first attacks were on economic targets, an official says.
The more recent attacks have been purely aimed at generating terror among local civilians, US officials say. Renamo's apparent goal, they add, is to create a popular backlash against Zimbabwe's support for Mozambique. Zimbabwe has a reported 5,000 to 8,000 troops in Mozambique, providing security for the ``Beira corridor,'' which is Zimbabwe's vital rail link to the sea. Mozambique government troops are also trained by British and Zimbabwean officers in Zimbabwe.
Renamo was originally under the patronage of the white regime in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) to oppose the Marxist Frelimo government in Mozambique. Later, South Africa became Renamo's chief ally. Despite a 1984 pledge to end its ties, US officials say, South Africa probably continues some degree of support.
Renamo is militarily effective, its Washington admirers and detractors agree.
But opinion is sharply divided about its political legitimacy and about US policy toward Mozambique.
The country's ruling Frelimo (the Mozambique Liberation Front) is sincerely trying to wean itself from the Soviet Union and its Marxist heritage, according to the Reagan administration. For this reason, it says, the US is providing economic and political support.
However, a group of conservative Republican lawmakers say that government has not changed its ways or its allies. They say Frelimo is turning to the West only because economic, military, and political failures have brought it to the brink of collapse. Renamo, they argue, is a legitimate group of freedom fighters and deserves US support.
Senior US officials respond that Renamo has little legitimacy in or out of Mozambique. However, they say a political solution to the civil war must be found, to end the killing and war-related starvation.
Renamo has been accused of a series of atrocities against civilians in Mozambique since last summer. It denies responsibility.