PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe said yesterday he would consider withdrawing some 7,000 Zimbabwean troops from Mozambique once the Maputo government and its rebel foes concluded a peace accord to end 16 years of civil war.
President Mugabe, who brokered peace talks last week in Rome between Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano and Mozambican National Resistance (RENAMO) rebel leader Afonso Dhlakama, referred to a cease-fire agreement signed by the two belligerents at the Rome talks. The accord commits both sides to end hostilities on Oct. 1.
"These very encouraging developments in Mozambique will allow us to review the deployment of our troops along the Beira and Limpopo routes to the sea," he told Zimbabwean Army chiefs in Harare.
Zimbabwe, devastated by a crippling drought that has left more than half its population of 10 million in need of food aid, spends $500,000 a day - or 70 percent of its annual defense budget - on the upkeep of the troops in Mozambique.
"This deployment is a large drain on our national resources, particularly at a time when we are restructuring our economy to make it more productive, create more employment, and raise the standard of living of our people," the president added.
The soldiers were deployed in Mozambique 10 years ago to fight against Mr. Dhlakama's RENAMO rebels and to protect landlocked Zimbabwe's trade routes threatened by the fighting.
Their withdrawal would meet a long-standing demand by RENAMO, whose guerrillas had widened their attacks in recent years to include targets inside Zimbabwe.