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Toll Over 380; Guerrillas Blamed : Massacre in Mozambique: Babies, Elderly Shot Down

July 24, 1987|MICHAEL PARKS | Times Staff Writer

INHAMBANE, Mozambique — The elderly were gunned down by the score, hospital patients were shot dead in their beds and babies were killed as they nursed at their mothers' breasts.

More than 380 people, mostly women and children, died in the massacre at Homoine, one of the worst in Mozambique's decade-long civil war, and the death toll continues to rise as more bodies are found, as more of the critically wounded die.

"We don't know why they came, why they killed," Ringi Taimu, an old man who was shot in the chest and leg, said Thursday. "They just wanted everyone dead. I have no idea why they did th1769156128none."

The attack last Saturday on Homoine was carried out, according to Mozambique's government, by right-wing guerrillas belonging to the Mozambique National Resistance, which has been fighting to oust the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique, the ruling Marxist party.

Although the civil war here has been marked by repeated atrocities, none has been as horrific as the attack on Homoine, a district town about 20 miles west of Inhambane, the capital of a province of the same name, and about 300 miles north of the national capital, Maputo. The only purpose of this attack seemed to be sheer terrorism.

The principal victims, survivors here said, were the old, the young and the sick--in short, the most defenseless. Whole families were killed with bursts of automatic weapons fire; children were cut in two by heavy-caliber machine gun fire. When they exhausted their ammunition, the guerrillas used bayonets and machetes to stab and hack the villagers to death.

'Bodies Everywhere'

"The carnage was beyond description," said Bento Niquice, the Inhambane correspondent of the Mozambique newspaper Noticias. "The whole town was like a slaughterhouse. There were bodies, bones, blood everywhere."

As they killed, the guerrillas shouted, "We want to finish off the people of Samora Machel." Machel, who died last year in an air crash, was Mozambique's first president after the former Portuguese colony gained its independence in 1974.

In Lisbon, a spokesman for the guerrilla organization, commonly abbreviated as Renamo, denied any responsibility, accusing a special brigade of government troops of committing the atrocities so as to blame the guerrillas, increase support for the government and blunt a planned rebel offensive.

"It is not our practice to perform this sort of operation," the spokesman, Paulo Oliveira, said.

Government troops pursuing the guerrillas said they killed 16 of them in clashes early this week, and a massive hunt is reported under way for Renamo forces in the area.

South Africa Blamed

The Mozambique government has also blamed neighboring South Africa for the massacre, asserting that the Pretoria government has continued to support Renamo in an attempt to destabilize the country and thus help secure its own continued minority white rule.

"We don't think, we know who did this--the South Africans," President Joaquim Chissano said in Maputo, reiterating his government's charges that Pretoria had just resupplied the guerrillas to permit them to launch a major offensive to cut the country in two.

"These armed bandits in Renamo are just an extension of the South African army . . . and this so-called civil war is really South African aggression against Mozambique."

Strong Denial Issued

The South African Foreign Ministry strongly denied the charges, saying that Pretoria had ended its support of Renamo with the conclusion of a nonaggression treaty with Mozambique three years ago.

The furious bloodletting began shortly after dawn Saturday, survivors said, and lasted for nearly five hours. The estimated 400 guerrillas quickly overwhelmed the town's small 90-man local militia, attacked the hospital and then went through Homoine killing residents unable to flee into the surrounding bush.

"They went house to house massacring people," said Nizar Moussa, who was wounded in the chest. "Our soldiers fought, but they were greatly outnumbered. Many died."

Tomas Alexantre, 27, one of the militiamen manning the town's defenses, said the attack began shortly after 5 a.m. with intense rifle fire and mortar bombardment.

Hospital Was Attacked

"They seemed to go to the hospital almost immediately," he said. "It seemed to be their principal target, and they went through the wards, killing patients and nurses. The fighting went on for almost five hours. I don't think they wanted to leave anyone alive."

Mark von Koevering, a 30-year-old American agronomist working in the area, said he hid for 10 hours in the utility room of the hotel where he was staying to escape the fighting.

"At first I thought (the guerrillas) were probably soldiers from Homoine because they had uniforms and were very well equipped," he told the Mozambican news agency AIM. "But they were shooting every person and building in sight.

"They were very well organized," he recalled. "They came in one group with a bearded man in front leading and directing his people down different streets."

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