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Mozambique is still wracked by civil war while new conflicts rage

#Mozambique #wracked #civil #war #conflicts #rage

As Mozambique battles a brutal Islamist insurgency, the legacy of decades of civil war still haunts the African nation, where many former rebels refuse to disarm.

“It’s hard to live alone, without nothing, without family around,” said Aurelio Capece Mudiua, who demobilized in 2020 after hiding in the Gorongosa Mountains for nearly four decades.

“Some of us had children and they (the fighters) died here without seeing them,” he said. “I would like to say to the others who are still in the mountains, come to us.”

This area of ​​central Mozambique was a bastion of RENAMO, the rebel movement that fought the government for decades.

Burnt-out carcasses of pickup trucks, already overgrown by tall grass, still dot the landscape, remnants of another time.

Most of the current violence is taking place about 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) north. When the Islamists took up arms in 2017, RENAMO was still at war with the government, led by the rival FRELIMO party.

With an average age of 55, most RENAMO rebels are now too old to take up arms. But in one of the poorest countries in the world, they face an uncertain future.

When Mozambique gained independence in 1975 after a decade of fighting colonial ruler Portugal, the country was plunged into a civil war that served as a proxy battle in the Cold War.

The United States, apartheid South Africa, and white-ruled Rhodesia supported RENAMO, while the Soviets supported FRELIMO.

The war claimed a million lives, decimated the economy and left the nation riddled with landmines.

– We want peace’ –

After a 1992 peace agreement, RENAMO became a political party but never won a national election. In 2013 they took up arms again until a new deal was signed in 2019.

“There is no one in RENAMO who does not want peace,” said Antonio Muchanga, one of the party’s MPs.

According to official statistics, nearly two-thirds of RENAMO fighters have surrendered their arms since 2020, and 11 of the movement’s 16 bases have been closed.

But observers say Mozambique is suffering from the problems of many other post-war countries on the ground.

“For the most part, the fighters gave up old hunting weapons,” said a humanitarian worker who asked to remain anonymous.

Everyone who was demobilized received about $2,000 to help them start a new life. Like most ex-combatants, Aurelio spent his salary quickly and is longing for a pension.

Under the peace agreement, RENAMO fighters were to receive the same pensions as their FRELIMO counterparts. But many are still waiting for them, which they see as a sign of government bad faith.

“If the government would give me money, I would do my best to help my family build a house and more,” Aurelio said.

“But the government still hasn’t given us any money. The payout has been completed and we’re now waiting at home without anything.”

Disarmament “can’t work if you just give people money,” said Zenaida Machado, a researcher with Human Rights Watch. “They also need to be given the tools to reintegrate into their communities and become self-sufficient.”

The real problem is simply financial, said Mirko Manzoni, the UN official in Mozambique who is credited with drafting the latest peace deal.

“The Mozambique government has a limited budget and huge needs. There is also a constant burden of financing the combatants’ pensions,” he said.

A new law to finance and harmonize pensions is in the works.

“The talks lasted two and a half years. The first demobilized already used up their packages a year ago,” Manzoni said.

He hopes the law will be passed before the end of the year.

“Combatants must understand that they not only have rights but also have a duty to share in the suffering of the rest of the population. Most Mozambicans don’t have a pension,” Manzoni said.

Civilians are the forgotten victims of war. Both sides committed appalling violence, but the peace accords provided for a general amnesty and the victims have little hope of justice.

“Both sides fought for a cause they believed to be just,” Manzoni said. “The best justice is development in a system where people feel included.”

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