Mozambique Rebels Claim 46 Killed In Clashes With PM-Pope
LISBON, Portugal (AP) _ The rebel Mozambique National Resistance movement claimed today that its troops have killed 46 soldiers from Mozambique and Zimbabwe during clashes in the last month.
The claim was released in a statement in Lisbon, one day after Pope John Paul II arrived in Mozambique on the last leg of a 10-day tour of southern Africa. John Paul has urged Mozambique’s Marxist-oriented leaders to begin peace talks with the rebels.
In the statement, rebel movement leader Alfonso Dhlakama said he hoped John Paul’s visit would contribute to peace in Mozambique, one of the world’s poorest nations and one that has been wracked by internal war since it gained independence from Portugal in 1975.
On Monday, the rebels declared a unilateral cease-fire in three areas of the country so residents could attend Masses celebrated by the pope.
The rebel statement said its forces on Sept. 1 attacked barracks housing Mozambigue government troops and Zimbabwean forces, killing nine Mozambican and seven Zimbabwean soldiers.
The statement said rebel forces on Monday also killed 20 Mozambique government soldiers and nine Zimbabweans in clashes near Vila de Mungari, southwest of the coastal city of Beira.
The rebel forces refuted what they said were claims by the government news agency AIM that rebel commander General Calisto Meque had been killed in combat by Mozambiquan troops in central Zambezia province.
The statement said Meque is alive and commanding rebel units in Zambezia. The rebels also claimed they killed a government officer late last month in an ambush in northern Cabo Delgado province.
The government forces - backed by Zimbabwean, Tanzanian and Malawian troops - have been fighting the right-wing guerrillas in Mozambique since 1975.
The bitter struggle has forced 1 million Mozambicans to flee to neighboring countries and caused famine among an estimated 6 million of the country’s 14.5 million inhabitants.
The rebel forces, whose estimated 12,000 to 22,000 guerrilla fighters formerly received backing from South Africa, have been accused of slaughtering civilians. The rebels deny the allegations.