Mugabe gets Dhlakama to end poll boycott

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Zimbabwe's President, Robert Mugabe, has been instrumental in persuading a former foe to take part in Mozambique's first general election. What had been an electoral crisis eased yesterday after Mr Mugabe and a Rome-based Catholic lay community convinced opposition presidential candidate Afonso Dhlakama to end his boycott of the poll.

Mr Dhlakama, leader of the former rebel movement, the Mozambique National Resistance (Renamo), decided to participate after members of the Rome-based Sant' Egidio community met him on Thursday and Mr Mugabe spoke to him by telephone for 30 minutes early yesterday.

Mr Mugabe's efforts provided an ironical twist to the two days of drama as Renamo was set up by the Rhodesian Central Intelligence Organisation in the early Seventies to combat the Zimbabwe African National Union (Zanu) guerrilla movement based in Mozambique which he was leading. It was Mozambique's first president, Samora Machel, who pressed Mr Mugabe to negotiate a peace deal with Ian Smith's Rhodesian government.

'Mugabe's intervention was really crucial,' said the Italian ambassador, Manfredo di Camerana, who has played a pivotal role in the Mozambican peace effort over the past five years. The South African Vice-President, Thabo Mbeki, also called Mr Dhlakama and arrived in Maputo yesterday.

Mr Dhlakama announced that the United Nations and the international community had promised to investigate all allegations of electoral fraud and to urge the National Elections Commission to extend the two-day voting period. 'The international community gave us guarantees that our complaints about irregularities denounced by Renamo could be investigated beginning now, and others after the elections,' he said.

No one was more pleased with the outcome than the UN Special Representative Aldo Ajello who had seen the dollars 1bn (pounds 620m), two-year peace mission he had overseen close to disaster. Before a ceasefire in October 1992, the civil war had raged for 17 years killing a million people and leaving millions homeless.

Diplomatic sources denied suggestions that Mr Dhlakama and Renamo had been paid to reconsider their position, saying that the last dollars 3m from a dollars 19m UN-administered trust fund for Renamo had been deposited in bank accounts in the United States and Switzerland.

Mr Dhlakama attempted to put a brave face on his about-face, telling a press conference: 'There are elections in this country because I, Dhlakama, personally with the people and my brothers during 16 years struggled so that there could be this celebration. So the celebration is of Dhlakama, the celebration is of the people. President Dhlakama saved the nation,' he said later to a roar of laughter from reporters.

Mr Dhlakama pulled out of the election after alleging that his main rival, President Joaquim Chissano, and the ruling Mozambique Liberation Front (Frelimo) was planning to rig the polls. 'He was panicking like a confused little boy,' said one Western diplomat. 'We told him that he had put himself in a very dangerous situation and that if the boycott continued, the consequences could be catastrophic.'

The boycott appeared to have little impact on the voting, however, with millions going to the polls to elect a president and a 250-member national assembly. While Mr Dhlakama was telling reporters in Beira on Thursday that he would not vote, just 100 yards from his home two Renamo poll watchers were monitoring a voting station.

By late in the afternoon, some Renamo delegates began quitting the polling booths. First indication that Mr Dhlakama had changed his mind came early yesterday with radio reports telling Renamo party agents to return to their stations.

Diplomatic sources said that after the crisis had died down Mr Chissano, who is widely expected to win the election, had softened his outright rejection of calls for a government of national unity when the results are announced, probably in two weeks' time. He was expected either to include Mr Dhlakama and Renamo and some of the other 15 opposition parties in a new government, or in some consultative body.

(Photograph omitted)