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Despite New Aid, Killings and Hunger Persist in War-Torn Mozambique

November 15, 1987|DAVID CRARY | Associated Press

VILA DA MAGANJA, Mozambique — Changes unfolding in Mozambique are likely to come too late for Lassida Fohi, a teen-age mother who shrank to a near-skeleton while fleeing a guerrilla war.

Raiders destroyed her farm and abducted her husband, she said. Her two small daughters became so emaciated during their flight through the bush, surviving on plants, that permanent damage is likely.

Seven hundred miles from her thatched hut at a sweltering refugee camp here, government leaders, development experts and foreign diplomats in Maputo, the capital, are struggling to ease Mozambique's multiple crises.

Impressed by recent reforms and convinced that this former Portuguese colony seeks nonalignment despite its reliance on Soviet arms, Western countries are expanding their involvement with relief programs, investment and even military aid.

Long Road to Peace

None of it is likely to reach down to Lassida Fohi and her daughters for some time--if ever.

Recovery for Mozambique will not occur without peace. And many people say that the decade-old war remains a long way from resolution. Most of the victims are civilians, tens of thousands killed and millions hungry and homeless.

"The longer the war continues, the worse it gets," said Anil Das Guptas, field director for the British-based Save the Children Fund. "If you've had to flee your house four times, it's very different than having to flee once."

The guerrillas call themselves the Mozambique National Resistance and are depicted by backers abroad as anti-Marxist freedom fighters. In Mozambique, the prevalent term for them is bandidos armados, Portuguese for armed bandits. The government insists that the insurgency is supported by South Africa, which South Africa denies.

High Misery Index

In March, the Population Crisis Committee, a private research group in Washington, said that on the basis of infant mortality rates and various other criteria, Mozambique had more human suffering than any other country.

The misery can be quantified. About a third of the nation's 14.5 million people depend on foreign food aid, of which 750,000 tons is needed this year. Two million people have fled their homes--a fifth to neighboring countries, the rest to camps like those encircling Vila da Maganja in the central province of Zambezia.

The town is the capital of a district with 200,000 residents, but it has no functioning cars, no electricity, no running water. Roads leading to it are virtual no-man's lands--even army-guarded convoys have been ambushed.

Nationwide, guerrillas have destroyed hundreds of schools and clinics established since independence from Portugal in 1975. Efforts to distribute relief supplies to the countryside are hampered by mined roads, blown-up bridges and sabotaged railroad lines.

No Negotiations

The effects can be seen in the faces of people like Maimuna Antonio, a grandmother at Mutange, another refugee camp in Zambezia.

Hands clasped in front of her, wearing only a ragged cloth around her waist, she told of being abducted by the guerrillas. She said they forced her to grow food for them by day and sleep with them at night--and beat her if she refused.

The government refuses to negotiate with the guerrillas.

"Do you want us to have discussions on the number of children who will be killed, the number of villages to be sacked?" Foreign Minister Pascoal Mocumbi was quoted as saying in a recent interview in Paris.

Conflicting Claims

Both sides claim to control most of Mozambique's territory.

Western experts say few towns actually are administered by the guerrillas, but one added: "If you consider the territory where the government can't go without fighting their way in, it's enormous."

African leaders often compare Mozambique's guerrillas to the UNITA rebels fighting the Marxist government in Angola, another former Portuguese colony. Western officials say that UNITA, unlike the Mozambican insurgents, has popular support in the large areas it administers in Angola and espouses a legitimate political program.

Britain trains some Mozambican officers, and military aid is being sought from other Western countries to complement supplies from the Soviet Bloc. Western officials say a victory on the battlefield is unlikely and believe that negotiations of some sort are inevitable.

Troop Strength

Estimates of the guerrillas' strength range from 10,000 to 20,000, contrasted with about 25,000 regular government troops and a larger part-time militia.

Three neighboring countries--Zimbabwe, Malawi and Tanzania--deploy troops in Mozambique, primarily to help defend rail lines that link landlocked Zimbabwe and Malawi to Mozambican ports. Security for these lines would reduce the region's dependence on South African transport routes.

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