MWANZA, Malawi: Mozambican refugees are flooding into Malawi by the hundreds, recounting how government forces are torching their homes and barns in the hunt for supporters of Renamo opposition leader Afonso Dhlakama, who aims to seize power in six provinces.
The 63-year-old former rebel leader’s bid rekindles tensions in the southern African country thought to have been buried 24 years ago.
“The soldiers came in government vehicles to burn houses and maize barns and accused us of sheltering Renamo soldiers,” farmer Omali Ibrahim, 47, told AFP on arriving at the Kapise refugee camp in Malawi’s southern district of Mwanza with his wife and five children.
Ibrahim and his wife and five children were among some 300 refugees, many of them women and children, who trudged into the camp under scorching sun on just one day last week.
Most had walked several days to reach Kapise camp, just 500 meters from the border with Mozambique’s Tete province.
The camp now houses 1,580 people — up from 300 in June last year.
Dhlakama, who led Renamo in a 16-year civil war that ended in 1992, has refused to accept the results of 2014 elections, which saw him beaten once again by his old enemy, the Frelimo party led by President Filipe Nyusi.
Sporadic clashes between Renamo and government forces have taken place in recent months, but tensions rose further when Dhlakama vowed on December 16 to take power by March in six of Mozambique’s 11 provinces.
Tete is one of the six, all of them located in the center and north of the country.
Dhlakama said he would gain ground thanks to public support, but warned he would retaliate with force if the government tried to prevent his takeover.
The account of rampaging government troops told by farmer Ibrahim was supported by several other families at the camp when an AFP team visited last week.
“We could’ve been killed by government soldiers if we hadn’t hidden in the bush for two days,” said Luciano Laitoni, 60, who arrived with his visibly exhausted wife and five children.
“Our house and a barn full of maize were burnt, but thanks we are here safely,” said Laitoni, carrying the few possessions he managed to salvage.
Flora Manuel, 25, who arrived at the camp with six children and her husband, also said her house was torched and her animals slaughtered.
“All our livestock of 16 pigs and six goats were killed and a barn full of maize burnt, but luckily we survived and ran away,” she said.
Charles Luka said he was not at home when his house was burnt down and has been unable to find his wife and two daughters.
“We are simply farmers and I have never seen a Renamo soldier. We are not Renamo,” Luka said.