Mozambique 'not going back to war' says president

Mozambique's president insisted that violent clashes with armed rebels did not spell a slide back to brutal civil war, insisting the energy-rich nation remains a safe bet for investors.

"I do not think, and that is a strong 'no'... that we are going back to war," Armando Guebuza told AFP in an exclusive interview, amid the worst political violence the country has seen since its brutal 16-year civil war ended in 1992.

"Mozambique is not in a situation of instability," said Guebuza.

The civil war pitted Guebuza's Frelimo liberation movement against anti-Communist Renamo rebels. It led to the deaths of an estimated one million people and made Mozambique a byword for internecine bloodshed.

Since then the country has boomed, amid a coal and gas bonanza and as the warring factions shifted their battle to the ballot box.

But as Renamo's power has waned its leader Afonso Dhlakama retreated to the bush, vowing reprisals if the country's economic windfall is not shared.

A series of tit-for-tat attacks between his supporters and the government led the military to launch a sustained assault on his bases beginning on October 21.

Since then Renamo has declared a two-decade peace deal null and void and gunmen have launched attacks on the country's main highway.

But Guebuza, 70, said the clashes were restricted to one area and were short-term.

"I don't think there is a problem in the medium and long term and we are doing our best to stop it as soon as possible," he said, speaking in the central-western town Chimoio.

"Things that are happening are localised, and we know where it is happening."

Guebuza personally blamed his old civil war rival Dhlakama for the simmering conflict that has rocked the centre of the country.

"Apparently he sees himself as a loser and uses whatever remains of his forces to try to prove that he can impose on the government his own decisions," Guebuza said.

"That doesn't make sense because there is no problem of legitimacy on the present government. We have a vast majority," said Guebuza.

Dhlakama did not want to battle the ruling party at polls, Guebuza added, after Renamo refused to register for an upcoming local vote on November 20.

"So he is afraid of elections, in fact."

Dhlakama fled when his base in the central Gorongosa mountains fell on October 21. His location is unknown.

"He decided. He attacked. He shot at the soldiers. The soldiers had to respond," said Guebuza.

He insisted that peace talks were the only way out of the crisis.

"The solution is dialogue. It is not a military solution."

"I want to encourage him to be part of the solution of the situation, not the problem, as he looks like being today."

Guebuza said authorities had taken steps to secure a key railway used to export coal through central port Beira.

"The government has taken all steps in order to protect those infrastructures" he said, though he cautioned there was "no government that can defend every spot".

Still "there are many people that are investing even today as the situation continues", he added.

Already a successful businessman before taking office, he denied his family had used their political power for self-enrichment.

All four of his children are involved in lucrative businesses, and his daughter Valentina is an especially influential entrepreneur.

"It is not correct… that I am using the resources of the state for my own benefit," said Guebuza.

"I am working at this moment for the country. Whatever I had in business… I gave away responsibility of managing them to other persons, in this case to my daughter and my children."

"I don't think that we should legally say that children of presidents are not allowed to have business. That would mean that you are saying that African leadership should not encourage people to develop and create wealth."

After serving two terms over ten years, Guebuza said he would step down before elections next year, but was coy over who his successor might be.

"That's my secret," he said jokingly.

Frelimo had decided to focus on upcoming local elections before next year's national polls, he said.

"After that we will all have somebody and we can all concentrate on that, to support that person."

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