BEIRA, Mozambique — Despite an escalation in Mozambique's grinding civil war, one of the leading figures in the peace effort, Roman Catholic Archbishop Jaime Goncalves, says he remains confident of securing a cease-fire between government forces and right-wing guerrillas.
"The feeling is that both sides want the situation to be solved quickly," Goncalves said in an interview in the Indian Ocean port of Beira. He predicted that "a cease-fire will be (in effect in) less than one year."
Many Mozambicans are unlikely to share Goncalves' optimism. The conflict has intensified since August, when Mozambican church leaders held their first round of talks with Afonso Dhlakhama, head of the rebel Mozambique National Resistance, or Renamo, in Nairobi, Kenya.
On the eve of those talks, Renamo rebels attacked a small village in the southern province of Gaza, killing 57 civilians, according to official reports. The raid was typical of the war of terror that Renamo has waged in the countryside.
Hundreds more civilians have died since, and at the end of September, Renamo plunged the capital of Maputo into darkness in an intensification of its campaign of sabotaging Mozambique's power supply from South Africa.
The fighting is "contradictory to what we want," the archbishop said. "We want to finish the war, reduce violence with the peace talks."
Renamo officials told the churchmen at the Nairobi meetings that they were still fighting "to keep themselves alive," Goncalves said. "But it is regrettable that they are still fighting. I think as the dialogue is carried on, they will at least agree to reduce the violence."
Church leaders first called for negotiations between the government and Renamo in 1987.
The churchmen, who included Roman Catholic Cardinal Alexandre dos Santos of Maputo and Anglican Bishop Denis Sengulane, are hoping for direct talks between the rebels and President Joaquim Chissano's ruling Mozambique Liberation Front, or Frelimo.
It is unclear what more the church leaders can do to bring the two sides together.
Chissano has named Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi as mediator in the conflict, with the help of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. In July, he asked both to help arrange direct negotiations.
Yet, there are still wide differences between the two sides as outlined in the government's statement and the rebels' own document presented to the church leaders.
Chissano, 49, has called on the rightist rebels to renounce violence and to allow themselves to be reintegrated into society, which is governed as a one-party state by Frelimo.
Renamo's document, which Chissano dismissed in August as "meaningless," calls for free elections, the withdrawal of Zimbabwe's troops protecting railway links to Beira and the recognition of Renamo as an "active political force."
"These are obstacles," the archbishop conceded. "But I think our leader, the government, the politicians and the Renamo people have good ideas to solve this problem or at least to come to a compromise."
In one possible compromise, Chissano offered earlier this month to allow Renamo members to stand in parliamentary elections in 1991 if they renounce violence as a political weapon.
In early October, Kenyan and Zimbabwean representatives held more talks with Renamo.
Then, two Mozambican officials flew to Nairobi to monitor the situation although they were not involved in direct talks with Renamo. They were Albert Chissano, the president's brother, who is director of local administration in the Ministry of State and Administration, and Geraldo Chirindza, the head of the Africa and Middle East desk at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Set up by Rhodesian intelligence as a counterinsurgency force in the 1970s and later actively backed by South Africa, Renamo has earned a reputation as one of the world's most brutal rebel movements.
"We say that in our country, we're dying," Goncalves said. "We wanted to live without war, so we (the church leaders) started what we did."