Mozambique rivals agree ceasefire ahead of elections

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image copyrightAFP
image captionRenamo is thought to have retained about 1,000 armed men

The government of Mozambique has signed a ceasefire with the Renamo opposition party in a bid to end hostilities ahead of elections in October.

The deal follows two years of low-level clashes between armed members of Renamo and government forces.

In 2013 Renamo withdrew from a peace deal signed more than 20 years earlier which had ended a protracted civil war.

Last week, as part of the negotiations, the government began releasing Renamo prisoners captured in recent fighting.

The ceasefire was signed on Sunday night in the capital Maputo between Renamo's chief negotiator Saimon Macuiane and the government after almost a year of negotiations.

Mr Macuiane told the AFP news agency that the "definitive agreement" came into operation as of 22:00 local time (2000 GMT) on Sunday.

"We have begun a new era for the country," Mr Macuiane said, describing the ceasefire as an "important step towards national reconciliation... and a durable peace".

Correspondents say that Renamo has been fighting a low-level insurgency since party leader Afonso Dhlakama returned to the bush in 2012, two decades after he agreed a peace deal with the governing Frelimo party.

Sunday's late night agreement follows a general peace agreement between the two sides a week ago - including a deal over the integration of Renamo's remaining members into the Mozambique security forces.

image copyrightAriadne Van Zandbergen
image captionAfter winning independence Mozambique's Frelimo fighters became the governing party but were soon pitched into a civil war against rebels backed by neighbouring South Africa
image copyrightAriadne Van Zandbergen
image captionIt is hoped that any peace deal may improve Mozambique's economy - the country's agriculture sector remains seriously underdeveloped

Renamo officials say that Mr Dhlakama - who has been under cover in the remote Gorongosa mountains in central Sofala province for nearly a year - did not travel to the capital to sign the ceasefire himself, even though he pledged earlier that he would commit to doing so once his party reached a final agreement with the government.

"He mandated me to declare it," Mr Macuiane said, at the same time indicating that Mr Dhlakama would meet Mozambique's President Armando Guebuza at a later date.

"It is obvious that there will be a high level, symbolic meeting later on," he told AFP.

Parliament is expected to start the process of implementing the peace agreement over the next week.

Presidential and national polls are due to be held on 15 October, Mr Macuiane said.

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