Renamo's 'gross abuses'

AS THE prospects brighten for an agreement between the Frelimo government in Mozambique and the Renamo rebels, a report says that both sides have been responsible for human rights abuses but that Renamo has committed the large majority of gross abuses.

In a report published today, Africa Watch, the US-based human rights group, says: 'In general it is undoubtedly the case that Renamo has been guilty of a wider range of abuses than the government and FAM (the Mozambique army); the abuses have been on a larger scale, more frequent, more systematic and with less recourse to justice for the victims.'

Renamo mutilates civilians by cutting off their ears, noses, lips and sexual organs, the report says; these are not isolated incidents and they are continuing. It describes them as 'a central part of Renamo's strategy of advertising its presence and its strength . . . '

Africa Watch was given 'unprecedented access' by the government. But on progress towards a democratic system of government which respects civil and political rights, the report says: 'Considerable progress has occurred but the record is not unblemished and significant areas of concern remain'.

In a breakthrough at the weekend, President Joachim Chissano agreed to meet the Renamo leader, Afonso Dhlakama. The meeting has not yet been fixed but it may pave the way for a ceasefire after 16 years of war. The two sides have held talks in Rome for two years at which the government has made concessions and Renamo has changed its demands. Diplomats say Renamo is being supplied with weapons from South Africa, with or without the knowledge of the Pretoria government.

But even if a ceasefire is agreed it is unlikely to relieve the desperate straits of people in the Mozambique countryside, which is suffering its third successive year of drought. North of the Beira corridor Renamo may be able to control its forces but in the south there are wandering armed gangs of bandits with no allegiance except to themselves. It will take more than a formal ceasefire to end their violence, while many of the roads needed for food distribution are mined.

Renamo is suspicious of international aid agencies and unwilling to allow peace corridors to allow food to reach those most in need. The Africa Watch report says: 'The manner in which the war has been fought has been a major contributor to the chronic famine which has afflicted the country since the early 1980s.'