MAPUTO (Reuters) - Mozambique’s Renamo opposition leader Afonso Dhlakama said on Friday he intended to run as a candidate in the October 15 presidential election, but he accused government forces of preventing him from leaving his hideout in the bush.
Dhlakama, who led the former Renamo rebel movement in the 1975-1992 civil war and has been repeatedly defeated by the ruling Frelimo party in subsequent elections, has lived in a bush base in central Sofala province for more than a year to escape what he says is government persecution.
The Renamo leader told reporters by phone he was surrounded by government forces, which have clashed with his armed partisans several times over the last few months.
“I’m the leader of a party, I have to get organised,” Dhlakama said in a conference call from his base in the thickly forested Gorongosa mountain district, more than 800 km (500 miles) north of the capital Maputo.
“If I’m attacked, I’ll respond with force and destroy everything,” he said.
Since April last year, Renamo guerrillas have carried out sporadic raids on police and military posts in parts of central and southern Mozambique. They have also ambushed vehicles on the main north-south highway, killing several dozen people, disrupting traffic and causing cancellations in the tourism industry.
Maputo-based diplomats say that while Mozambique’s army has struggled to quell Renamo’s low-level insurgency in mostly rural areas well north of the capital, they do not see Dhlakama having the military strength to drag the country back to all-out war.
One of the government’s negotiators, Transport Minister Gabriel Muthisse, said Dhlakama was free to leave his bush hideout and participate in the political process. “Nothing will happen to him. There is no threat again him,” he told Reuters.
Dhlakama, who earlier this month registered to vote in the October election, said he wanted to run his campaign for the presidency with the formal endorsement of his party.
Renamo spokesman Antonio Muchanga told reporters the party’s National Council backed Dhlakama as its presidential candidate.
Dhlakama demanded guarantees from Guebuza’s government that his safety would be respected, and an agreement for military members of his party to be integrated into the army and police.
He said he was willing to be patient and wait for a response. “No country can have two armies. I can’t continue in the bush,” he said.
Muthisse said Dhlakama’s armed partisans needed to disband and cease to exist as a separate military force.
Whoever wins the October 15 vote is expected to help bring to fruition major coal and offshore natural gas investment projects that have the potential to bring billions of dollars to a southern African nation that was in ruins two decades ago.
Dhlakama accuses Frelimo and Guebuza of monopolising political and economic power. The constitution bars Guebuza from running for a third term and former Defence Minister Filipe Nyusibut will run as the Frelimo candidate.
Other contenders include Daviz Simango, the leader of the other main opposition party, the Mozambique Democratic Movement.
Buoyed by foreign investment, Mozambique’s economy is forecast to grow by more than 8 percent this year from 7 percent in 2013, according to the IMF, which calls it “one of the most dynamic economies in Sub-Saharan Africa”.
Dhlakama said he had no interest in “paralysing the economy” and that his forces were not preventing foreign companies from mining and exporting coal.
Mozambique’s resource-led boom involves investors including Brazil’s Vale, London-listed Rio Tinto, Italy’s Eni and U.S. oil firm Anadarko.
Reporting by Manuel Mucari; Writing by Pascal Fletcher; Editing by Janet Lawrence