MAPUTO (Reuters) - Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi and the leader of the main opposition party Renamo on Thursday signed a permanent ceasefire agreement, designed to put an end to almost half a century of hostilities that killed over 1 million people at their peak.
Renamo and Nyusi’s ruling party fought on opposing sides of a 16-year civil war before a ceasefire ended the bloodshed in 1992, however violence has flared up sporadically in the years since then.
Thursday’s agreement is one step in a process that will culminate in the signing of a broader agreement in the country’s capital Maputo next week, expected to occur amid much fanfare but whose effectiveness remains to be seen.
In a marquee set up on a packed football field in Gorongosa, Renamo’s heartland in central Mozambique, the crowd cheered after Nyusi and Renamo leader Ossufo Momade, signed the agreement. The two leaders shook hands and embraced amid the din.
Nyusi said Mozambique was opening a new, more promising chapter free from the war and conflict that had slowed its development. “Gorongosa is no longer associated with violence,” he told the crowd.
Nyusi is keen to sign a final peace treaty ahead of presidential, parliamentary and provincial elections in October. Polls have historically been a trigger for violence, and delivering peace would also shore up his support among voters and backing from international investors.
For Renamo - which will be able to stand in provincial elections for the first time, and looks set to win a number of provinces - a peace treaty would help affirm its status as a legitimate political party.
“The key event is 15th of October - the elections and the results of that,” said Alex Vines, research director for risk, ethics and resilience and head of the Africa programme at Chatham House. “It will be the... initial litmus test of the sustainability of this process.”
Previously, accusations of fraud in elections have knocked the peace process off course.
Renamo fighters also still need to be successfully disarmed and reintegrated, with some to be placed in positions in the police or military. However a small group of fighters have in recent weeks disavowed Momade, and said they would not hand over the weapons while he is in charge.
Momade, who was due to travel with Nyusi in the presidential plane back to Maputo, said the party was now committed to making sure the elections are free, fair and transparent.
“Peace is here to stay,” he told the crowd of over 1,000 people, including international peace brokers and experts, prominent politicians and officials and locals.
Reporting by Manuel Mucari; Writing by Emma Rumney; Editing by Susan Fenton