Mozambique's long farewell to arms: Karl Maier in Muchene saw a country racked by civil war coming to terms with peace

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The Independent Online
THE TWO volleyball courts at this makeshift camp are idle these days as former Mozambican rebels laze around in the 40C heat of the north-western province of Tete, anxiously waiting to go home.

'We used to drill and exercise but that has stopped,' said Major Luciano Taibo, commander of the 496 Mozambican National Resistance (Renamo) rebels stationed at the Muchene assembly area 50 miles from the provincial capital, Tete. 'Everybody is too tired now and they just want to leave. Eleven have run away in the past weeks.'

Two months ago Major Taibo led the rebels into Muchene, handed over their AK-47s to a four-man team of United Nations soldiers and waited for orders from the capital, Maputo, to demobilise.

The orders, which were expected first in January and later on 1 March, have still not come. 'No one has told us anything and we do not understand what is going on in Maputo. The combatants are very frustrated,' said Major Taibo.

After two months of delays, troops loyal to the Renamo leader, Afonso Dhlakama, and the army of President Joaquim Chissano's Mozambique Liberation Front (Frelimo) have begun demobilising, each with a guaranteed salary. On Friday Mr Dhlakama watched as 101 rebels at the Neves assembly area, in the southern province of Inhambane, were sent home. Mr Dhlakama, whose 17-year war against Frelimo was backed first by Rhodesia and later South Africa, said the demobilisation meant his 'dream of democracy in Mozambique' was coming true.

The presence of the Renamo soldiers at Muchene and the continued arrival of thousands of government and rebel troops in more than 40 assembly areas nationwide is a key part of the October 1992 peace accords signed in Rome to end one of Africa's most destructive civil wars. While the truce has held and more than 6,000 UN peace-keepers have arrived, demobilisation and the formation of a 30,000-strong national army, half from the government and half from Renamo, have been delayed.

These setbacks have irritated Western aid donors, who have threatened to stop paying the pounds 600,000-a-day bill for Onumoz, as the UN peace- keeping operation is known, if general elections are not held on schedule in October.

The new unified armed forces, to be trained by Portuguese, British and French advisers, are supposed to be installed before the polls, but chances that the full army component of 15 infantry battalions will be ready by then are fading.

Confidence has not been inspired by the choice of joint commanders of the new army. Frelimo picked Lieutenant- General Lagos Lidimo, former head of the dreaded military counter-intelligence organisation, CIM, whose command of government forces in the northern Zambezia province in the mid-1980s was marred by widespread reports of human-rights abuses, including the indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas in Renamo-controlled zones and scorched- earth tactics. Renamo's choice, General Mateus Ngeunhamo, also earned a reputation for ruthlessness as a former head of military intelligence.

The army is supposed to a volunteer force, but neither government nor Renamo troops have shown much enthusiasm for re-enlistment. 'I do not like the military life,' said Antonio Luis, who was forcibly recruited from his home in Angonia, 40 miles from Muchene, at the age of 14. 'I have heard nothing of my parents and six brothers and sisters for the past eight years. I want to go home and return to school.'

Major Taibo added: 'No one wants to go to the army. We have done our part and now they need to get new young men for the army. Most of these guys have been fighting for 10 years and many are wounded and sick.'