Police fled their post in the central town of Maringue when Renamo fighters opened fire in an escalation of hostilities between the ex rebels and Frelimo, the ruling party against which Renamo fought a bloody 16 year civil war that ended in 1992.
“Gunmen attacked the police station but fortunately there were no casualties because the policemen fled the post,” Maringue’s administrator Antonio Absalao told AFP by phone.
The town is located about 35 kilometres (22 miles) from Renamo’s military base, which government troops seized on Monday in an operation the ex-rebels claimed was aimed at killing their leader, Afonso Dhlakama.
“The situation is horrible here. Early this morning, armed men supposed to be Renamo attacked, and it was a mess,” said Romao Martins, a local teacher.
“For one hour shooting could be heard from all directions and people fled from their homes,” he said.
Schools have been shut amid fears of an escalation in violence.
A spokesman for the Mozambique National Resistance (Renamo), which became a political party with a parliamentary minority after the civil war, hinted that the movement was responsible for the attack.
“The president of Renamo has lost control of the situation and you cannot blame (him) for what happens from here on,” Fernando Mazanga told AFP.
“The guerrillas are scattered and will attack without taking any orders,” he said.
Renamo, which took up arms against the then communist Mozambique Liberation Front (Frelimo) after independence from Portugal in 1975, declared Monday that it had pulled out of the peace agreement that ended that bitter conflict.
Return to war ‘unlikely’
Mazanga said Monday’s attack on its base “marks the end of multiparty democracy” in Mozambique.
But the declaration should be taken with a “pinch of salt”, South African Institute of International Affairs researcher Aditi Lalbahadur told AFP. “It’s very unlikely that you are going to see a return to war.”
Lalbahadur said that Renamo lacked the capacity to engage in a full scale conflict and that war was not in the interests of the government with its more powerful armed forces.
“Mozambique is trying very much to attract foreign investment into the country so any type of political instability works to their disadvantage,” Lalbahadur added.
Heading into local government polls next month and a national vote in 2014, Mozambique has a history of election-related violence.
Renamo, which has faced dwindling political support, demands more representation on election bodies and in the armed forces.
While electoral reforms are acknowledged as necessary, the former rebels have been accused of failing to offer a counter proposal.
Tensions between the rival sides began escalating last year after Dhlakama set up camp in the Gorongosa mountains and began retraining former guerrilla fighters.
“You’re seeing a Renamo that has always ever spoken the language of war and you’re seeing it again in a context where they have lost a lot of support over the years,” Lalbahadur said.
Charles Laurie, Africa expert with the London based risk analysts Maplecroft, agrees.
“I really see the extent of these recent incidents as in fact being a sign of weakening political prospects for Renamo whilst of course acknowledging that these are worrying military events, worrying incidents of conflict,” he said.
The assault on the Renamo base came after the former rebels attacked a government military unit on Thursday.
Defence ministry spokesman Custodio Chume told state broadcaster Radio Mozambique that Monday’s assault on the Renamo base was in response to that attack.
The Mozambican civil war, which ended after Renamo lost its Cold War backers Rhodesia and apartheid South Africa, killed about one million people.