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Journalists threatened, denied access to Renamo leader

(MISA/IFEX) - Mozambique's former rebel movement Renamo has banned its leader, Afonso Dhlakama, from speaking to the press. According to a report issued on 2 December 2009 in the local independent daily "O Pais", Renamo has threatened violence against any reporters who try to visit Dhlakama at his residence in the northern city of Nampula.

On 5 December, journalists who wanted to inquire about Dhlakama's state of health were forcefully turned away from the house by his armed bodyguards. The Renamo Nampula spokesperson, Arnaldo Chalaua, said this move was a response to the stories in the press about Dhlakama's supposedly poor health, which Renamo has dismissed as nothing but malicious rumours. Of course, keeping Dhlakama away from the press will merely inflame the speculation that he is seriously ill.

"We advise you journalists not to try reaching our leader's residence," threatened Chalaua. "Renamo will not be responsible for the consequences if you do."

Dhlakama's team of bodyguards has been strengthened and, according to "O Pais", Renamo even suspects that reporters are part of a government conspiracy to kidnap Dhlakama. Chalaua said that senior Renamo figures in charge of the party's security have concluded that Dhlakama should not speak to the press before the Constitutional Council has proclaimed the results of the 28 October general elections. According to the results announced by the National Elections Commission (CNE) on 11 November, the ruling Frelimo party won a landslide victory with 75 per cent of the vote.

Renamo claims the elections were fraudulent and has submitted an appeal to the Constitutional Council, the body that must validate and proclaim the results. Chalaua did not say whether the normally talkative Dhlakama has agreed to this isolation from the press.

Meanwhile, Dhlakama collapsed at a meeting of the Renamo Political Commission on 19 November, suffering from arthrosis, a common form of rheumatism. Since then he has been undergoing treatment in Nampula. Renamo sources who spoke to "O Pais" on condition of anonymity denied that he had been treated in South Africa or anywhere other than Nampula. They said his condition is gradually improving.

As for Renamo's threatened demonstrations against the election results, Deputy Interior Minister Jose Mandra warned that, if Renamo threatened public order, the police would certainly intervene. He confirmed that the riot police are keeping an eye on Dhlakama, partly because he is a member of a presidential advisory body, the Council of State, and thus has a right to police protection, but also because of his inflammatory statements immediately after the elections that "Mozambique will burn."

"So we have to guarantee his own security, but also security measures must be taken in case he thinks he should do something which endangers tranquillity and public order . . . So the police must always be on top of him," said Mandra.

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