Renamo 'rejected offer of ceasefire'

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The Independent Online
ROME - Joaquim Chissano, the President of Mozambique, said yesterday he had offered rebels an immediate cessation of hostilities to end 16 years of civil war, but that this had been rejected.

Mr Chissano, who met the rebel leader Afonso Dhlakama in Rome on Wednesday for the first time, said negotiators were instead drawing up a calendar for a general ceasefire that could be signed at an African summit within the next few months. 'I proposed an immediate cessation of hostilities. A truce is the wrong word as it implies a pause before the fighting resumes . . . but Mr Dhlakama rejected this,' Mr Chissano said.

He explained that Mr Dhlakama, leader of the Mozambique National Resistance (Renamo), had told him he doubted the men in the field would obey orders to stop fighting at once in their drought-stricken country, where millions face starvation. 'I told him that it was better to have a few violations of the ceasefire here and there, even if it involved clashes between entire battalions, rather than go on with generalised fighting and the systematic killing of innocents,' Mr Chissano said.

The rebel leader's dilemma highlighted a problem that diplomats involved in the two-year-old negotiations between Renamo and the Mozambique government in Rome have long warned of - that no one really controls some of the guerrillas.

Mr Chissano said he would be satisfied if the summit produced a declaration that mapped out the path to peace, although he felt it was absurd to go on fighting once all sides were in agreement. 'Once we have agreement on satisfying the guarantees Renamo has asked for, there is no more reason to go on killing. There is no point in killing while we draw up a document,' he said. Mr Chissano said the Zimbabwean President, Robert Mugabe, who has been attending the talks, wanted to speed them up in order to return home today.

Mr Chissano paid tribute to the role Tiny Rowland, the chief executive of the British conglomerate Lonrho, had played in the peace negotiations. 'Rowland is a figure who has directly or indirectly always been associated with moves for peace in Mozambique,' he said.

Mr Chissano said Mr Rowland had first become involved in secret moves to end the civil war through Daniel arap Moi, the President of Kenya, in 1987 and had started to persuade the Mozambican head of state to meet Mr Dhlakama last December.

Despite the President's praise, Mozambican officials said the Maputo governmnent suspected Mr Rowland of also having helped Mr Dhlakama and provided transport for the Renamo leader.

Mr Rowland, who has extensive business interests in southern Africa, was mentioned as a key force behind Jonas Savimbi, the Angolan rebel leader, at the outbreak of the civil war in 1975.

(Photograph omitted)