Blasts gut Moz arms depot

2009-05-30 17:02

Maputo - A series of explosions at an ex-guerrilla base belonging to Mozambique's rebel-movement-turned-opposition-party Renamo sent former fighters fleeing for their lives this week and partially gutted the armoury, local media reported on Saturday.

The explosions at the secretive base, which occurred on Wednesday but were reported on Saturday for the first time by Mozambique's daily Noticias newspaper, were believed to have been caused by defective storage of old weaponry.

The incident bore similarities to the deadly eruption of a state arms depot on the outskirts of the capital Maputo in March 2007 in which over 100 people - residents of surrounding neighbourhoods - were killed and close to 500 injured in a hail of rockets and missiles.

The government at the time blamed the explosion on high temperatures, while the opposition accused the army of negligence in the storage of obsolete weaponry left over from the country's 1976-1992 civil war.

Quoting an internal government memo on Wednesday's incident, Noticias said the blasts at the base in Maringue district in the central province of Sofala, a Renamo stronghold, started at 02:40 local time and continued until evening, causing panic among the local population.

16-year war

Ex-fighters fled the base to a local Renamo office, the report said. So far no casualties have been reported.

The 16-year war between the ruling Frelimo party and Renamo killed at least one million people and destroyed the economy by wrecking critical infrastructure.

Seventeen years into peace Renamo has held onto the base, which is believed to be home to hundreds of former fighters.

Renamo uses the existence of the base to maintain the threat of renewed hostilities, especially during disputes over election results.

The weapons stored there are believed to include assault rifles, rockets and landmines. The armoury was partially destroyed, according to Noticias.

Mozambique's government have tried to convince Renamo to disarm and offered to integrate the ex-combatants into the regular police force, but Renamo has so far rejected the idea, saying it needs its own force to guarantee the security of its leaders.

Gunbattles have erupted when soldiers and police have tried to storm the base.