Unidentified assailants opened fire on Saturday night against the motorcade of Afonso Dhlakama, leader of Mozambique's former rebel movement Renamo, wounding four members of the Renamo militia, reports the independent television station STV.
That afternoon Dhlakama had addressed a rally in Macossa district, in the central province of Manica. The attack took place at about 19.00, as Dhlakama's motorcade was heading for the provincial capital, Chimoio.
At Chibata, about 20 kilometres outside Chimoio, the motorcade came under fire from the side of the road. Some of the Renamo militiamen fired back and attempted to pursue the attackers.
A journalist from the Portuguese news agency, Lusa, who was accompanying the motorcade witnessed the ambush and claimed it was carried out by members of the Rapid Intervention Unit (UIR), the Mozambican riot police.
However, Dhlakama himself, when interviewed by STV, did not mention the police, and merely said he was sure that the attack was the work of the ruling Frelimo Party. He claimed that “the communists of Frelimo” had always attempted “to eliminate me physically”. He warned that, if they were to succeed, somebody “much worse” would take over Renamo.
Dhlakama said his bodyguards advised him to keep moving, but instead he ordered the motorcade to stop. It only resumed the journey to Chimoio at about 20.30, and some of the Renamo armed men made the journey on foot.
It is not clear how the Lusa reporter could be so certain of the identity of the assailants. By 19.00 it is dark in the Mozambican bush, making it difficult, if not impossible, to make a positive identification of people shooting from the side of the road.
A Manica police spokesperson, interviewed by STV, denied that any of the government defence and security forces were involved in the ambush. He did not venture a guess as to who might have been responsible.
STV went to the Manica provincial hospital in Chimoio, hoped to speak to the injured Renamo members. But hospital staff told them that nobody injured in the ambush had been admitted to the hospital.
Dhlakama now intends to travel to Beira. He promised that he would not retaliate for the ambush.