FIVE days of talks between Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano and former rebel leader Gen. Afonso Dhlakama have raised hopes of reviving the ailing United Nations-monitored peace process leading to Mozambique's first democratic ballot in October next year.
The first face-to-face talks between the two leaders on Mozambican soil have secured agreement in principle to unite the country under a single administration in preparation for next year's elections, President Chissano said on Aug. 28.
In what diplomats have described as a breakthrough, General Dhlakama, leader of the Mozambican Resistance Movement (Renamo), has dropped his insistence on the appointment of five Renamo governors. He will settle instead for written assurances that governors of all 10 provinces will ensure equal treatment of people living in Renamo-controlled areas.
UN Special Envoy Aldo Ajello says the impasse over territorial administration was the main obstacle to the peace process, and once it has been resolved, other matters will fall into place.
"The chemistry between the two leaders is surprisingly good, and they are making real progress towards removing the obstacles which were delaying the timetable for a transition to democracy," says a Western diplomat close to the talks. "This bodes well for the future and reduces the specter of a repetition of post-electoral events in Angola, which plunged the country back into civil war."
THE rival forces of the former Marxist-Leninist Frelimo and rebel Renamo have battled for power since independence from Portugal in 1975. The war devastated the country, leaving 1 million of the country's 15 million people dead. An estimated 3 million were displaced from their homes and another 1.5 million fled to neighboring countries.
In terms of a peace accord signed by the two leaders in Rome last year, demobilization of the Renamo rebel army and the ruling Front for the Liberation of Mozambique was due to begin in mid-April, but is still not under way.
The original election target date of October this year has been postponed to October 1994. But the impasse over the governors issue in recent months led to warnings by diplomats that further postponement might have to take place until June 1995 - beyond the current UN Security Council deadline.
On Aug. 25, the third day of the talks, Chissano summoned all of the provincial governors to Maputo for further talks on the following Saturday, which lasted about four hours.
"It was a deft move by Chissano and an impressive act of confidence-building," the diplomat says. "It enabled Chissano to show Dhlakama that the administrators have risen above party politics, and he could show the administrators that there was a relationship of mutual respect with Renamo at the leadership level."
Hope is rising in diplomatic circles that the two leaders will find a way of overcoming an impasse at the multiparty conference, which has deadlocked over a Renamo demand for 13 of the 21 seats on the electoral commission. The conference has considered only 16 of 284 articles in the draft electoral law that Mr. Ajello says must be completed by today. If the draft law is not completed in time for parliament to pass it in September, the elections may have to be delayed until 1995, diplomats say.
Other issues on the talks agenda are: finding the means for ensuring impartiality in the police and media before an election; government financial aid to Renamo for accommodation, uniforms, foreign travel, rehabilitation of demobilized soldiers; and logistic assistance for Renamo in the provinces.
The lack of residential and office accommodation for the former rebel leaders has been a major source of friction in the relationship between the Frelimo government and Renamo. This has been partially resolved by the creation of a UN-administered trust fund to provide for Renamo's needs. Renamo now has offices in downtown Maputo and the use of one of the city's main hotels for accommodating its officials.