Photo: J. Jackson/VOA
Renamo rebels being re-trained for combat at a remote bush camp near Mozambique's Gorongosa mountains (file photo).
The undeclared war that started in 2013 in central Mozambique and having spread, briefly, to the north, has evolved into the southern region of the country.
Populations from the communities of Homoíne district, in Inhambane province, are in a state of panic since last week and have left their homes looking for peace in the main village of Homoíne.
Their sudden flight is due to the presence of armed Renamo men who have exchanged fire with the government's defense and security forces. Although the government and Renamo do not corroborate this confrontation, on Tuesday, January 7th, the two forces tested their military armaments in Phembe from 7AM until around 11AM. There are reports of injuries and fatalities on both sides of the conflict.
The next morning, a car loaded with government military, likely reinforcement, marked the beginning of a war scene in Homoíne, and only hours later headed to the operation headquarters from the day before. On the same Wednesday, January 8th, an ambulance was seen being escorted in Maxixe, heading south, and it is assumed that the injured are those who were admitted to the Homoíne Hospital, in the wake of Tuesday's shootings .
However, prior to this situation, I came to Homoíne village mid-afternoon on Monday, January 6th, between intense, humid heat and intermittent rain. I was thirsty and I needed to drink water. I went to the bar of the old hotel, which is located in the "mouth" of the village, and what I observed there is that its occupants were concerned about the suffering of those who came from localities such as Phembe and Fanha-Fanha. They were drinking and chatting, with women adorning the scene.
My interest was not to stay at the bar. I filled myself up with a bottle of water to aleviate the heat and left to rake in the warnings of possible war. You never know! And this warning is printed on the cars that arrive one after the other, carrying people, bags and animals, all in the same space. It's an array of images that seemed to have been forgotten, when in fact the pain is never forgotten.
Information put into circulation since last week reports that in the localities of Phembe, Fanha-Fanha, among others, in Homoíne district, there is presence of armed men allegedly from Renamo. Due to this information, residents have fearfully abandoned their homes, goods and animals. Early on Tuesday afternoon, popular reports were that there were clashes in Phembe region, between the Afonso Dhlakama guerrilla's party and government defense and security forces. However, the Ministry of Defense (MDN) neither confirms nor denies that such an event has happened, but, however, confirms the presence of the military.
I personally have not experienced any conflict, however, people's suffering in the areas of allusion was and is still visible. I approached one of the vehicles that arrived, carrying furnishings and zinc sheets that may have been hastily removed from houses already established thinking that peace has come to stay. A family was in the car, a middle-aged woman, an elderly man, a female child of about four years old and a young man, with the soul and the body ready for anything. I went to speak to the lady first, but she did not want to talk. She fixed her eyes on me, as if she were telling me - from deep inside - that I was a really stupid asking questions about an obvious situation. A situation where people were fleeing from gunmen, allegedly from Renamo, that had moved themselves into areas of Phembe and Fanha-Fanha, and were now in the notorious former Renamo base of Nhavarre.
I resigned myself to the woman's refusal. I approached the young man, named Francisco, who told me that he was running. "Everybody is on the run. If you go to there now, you won't find anyone, and if you find a living soul, they will also be leaving soon." These are the answers that everyone gives, with small variants. I couldn't find anyone to admit to seeing armed men, or who claimed to have been approached in their house by someone asking for food or for other purposes. Everyone says "they say ...". But if there is one truth it is that everyone is abandoning his or her home. On the Maxixe to Homoíne route, the "chapa" (local bus) that was carrying me crossed wi th two cars loaded with people and goods, preferring not to stay in Homoíne village, where people, although not clearly showing it, are fearful of what may happen at any moment.
Local authorities avoid commenting on the situation, which is why everyone is talking about it, but a statement released by the Provincial Police Command (PRM) on Monday afternoon, ruled out any possibility of Renamo men moving through Homoine district. "It's a rumor," said the police spokesman, sub-inspector Delcídio. However there is information circulating which indicates that a unit of the Rapid Intervention Force (FIR) was dispatched to Nhavarre on Sunday evening, January 5th January. There is no concrete data, but on Tuesday, January 7th, information was released reporting that there were shots fired between armed Renamo men and FIR, which would be the result of a confrontation between the parties.
Phembe and Fanha-Fanha are now abandoned areas. Those who lived there, raised cattle and had farms, abandoned everything or took almost everything, leaving only what they couldn't carry, like cement block houses built with a great deal of sacrifice. Others, in the absence of immediate money, sold off their cattle, so they could pay to rent transportation. Here, too, there were opportunists who stole the same cattle.
The saddest thing is to hear some people saying that they will never return, even if it is said that there is no war. The health centers were closed because there are no patients there. They fled. The police too, according to information, which, however, has been dismissed by the Provincial Command of the PRM. The information notes that the officers have indeed left the two localities, playing their part as authentic local ghosts.
From now on, the drama of welcoming people to the village as refugees will be debated in the village of Homoíne. Moreover, unconfirmed data advances the possibility of creating a center to house the needy, which could create an unpredictable situation. And all this has revived the sad memory of the massacre of Homoíne, in 1987.
That year, according to history, Homoíne lived through the greatest massacre by Renamo guerrillas in Inhambane, during Mozambique's 16-year civil war. In the early morning of July 18th, 1987, bands of the Renamo movement who later became an opposition party, the biggest in Mozambique, slaughtered at least 424 people, including children, pregnant women and the elderly. It was considered as horrific as to that of the bloodshed Wiriamu, in Tete province, where a Portuguese colonial army killed 500 people. This is in addition to another 600 people killed in Vanduzi, Manica, by Rhodesian troops led by Ian Smith.