Mozambique clashes prompt thousands to flee to Malawi

One to the residential areas in the Kapise refugee camp, Mwanza, Malawi.
One to the residential areas in the Kapise refugee camp, Mwanza, Malawi. PHOTO: EPA

LISBON (BLOOMBERG) - More than 6,000 Mozambicans have fled to neighboring Malawi since mid-December to escape clashes between government forces and armed militants of the main opposition party Renamo, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Most of the refugees are coming from the western coal-mining province of Tete, where government forces are battling armed militia of the Mozambique National Resistance, or Renamo, Tina Ghelli, UNHCR's spokeswoman for southern Africa, said by phone on Friday from Tshwane, the South African capital.

"The number of people fleeing Mozambique has been increasing because of the clashes between Renamo and government forces," Ghelli said.

Almost all of the new arrivals are staying at Kapise village, about 100 kilometers (62 miles) south of Malawi's capital, Lilongwe, UNHCR said in a statement on Thursday (Feb 18).

Mozambican government officials have visited Kapise at least three times since mid-January to discuss the possibility of returning the asylum seekers to Mozambique, according to the statement.

Renamo and the ruling Front for the Liberation of Mozambique, or Frelimo, fought a 16-year civil war that ended in 1992. Frelimo won the country's first democratic elections two years later. The party has ruled the southeast African nation of 26 million people since the country's 1975 independence from Portugal.

Sporadic clashes erupted in 2013 in central Mozambique, and a cease-fire was agreed in September the following year in time for elections the next month. Fighting flared again last year.

Mozambique is developing projects that could make it the third-largest exporter of liquefied natural gas.