Four Mozambican police were killed when armed members of the opposition Renamo party raided a provincial station to try to free more than a dozen colleagues arrested earlier in the week, police said.
Thursday’s clash at Muxungue in the central province of Sofala is one of the most serious outbreaks of political violence in a decade in the war-scarred, mineral-rich southern African nation, and bodes ill for elections due next year.
Police declined to comment other than to confirm the death toll in the town, home to Renamo headquarters raided by police on Wednesday, Reuters reports.
Renamo security chief Osufo Madate said the retaliation demonstrated the party’s refusal to tolerate what it says is oppression meted out by the ruling Frelimo party, its enemy in a 16-year post-independence civil war that ended in the early 1990s.
“For the past 20 years we have fought for peace and have been repeatedly attacked and humiliated,” Madate told Reuters.
“But since October 2012 we have changed our stance. If we continue with our peaceful behavior, it will mean the end of us. From now on, whenever we are attacked, we will retaliate adequately.”
Political tensions have been rising since police killed two men after storming Renamo offices in a northern town a year ago.
Renamo president Afonso Dhlakama briefly retreated to a camp in the secluded Gorongosa Mountains in November, threatening to set up a guerrilla training camp and kick off another war.
Although resumption of full hostilities is highly unlikely given Frelimo’s political and military dominance since a shaky 1992 truce, tensions are bound to worry foreign mining firms exploring some of the world’s largest untapped coal and natural gas reserves.
Major investors include Italy’s Eni, New York-listed Anadarko, Brazil’s Vale and London-listed Rio Tinto.
Mozambique’s offshore Rovuma gas field is believed to hold 150 trillion cubic feet of gas, enough to supply Germany, Britain, France and Italy for 15 years.