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UNHCR: Mozambicans flee to Malawi as troops, rebels clash

The UNHCR said refugees told of soldiers attacking villages which harboured opposition party members.

Refugees from Mozambique shortly after arrival in Kapise, Malawi. Picture: UNHCR.

GENEVA - More than 2,000 Mozambicans have fled to Malawi to escape fighting between government forces and rebels in the coal mining province of Tete in the last three weeks, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Friday.

UNHCR spokesperson Karin de Gruijl said refugees had told of soldiers attacking villages they believed were harbouring opposition party members and had burned down houses, in one case killing an elderly woman trapped inside her home.

"Some parents also stated they have been separated from their children during flight and they have not been able to find them," de Gruijl told a news conference in Geneva.

Two thirds of the 1,297 registered refugees were women and children, UNHCR said. A further 900 were waiting to register.

Mozambique's main opposition party, Renamo started out as a guerrilla force backed by neighbouring then-Rhodesia's white-minority government and later apartheid South Africa, on its southern border, to counter the communist Frelimo movement.

The two sides fought a civil war from 1976 to 1992 in which a million people died.

Frelimo has dominated politics since the end of the fighting but Renamo never completely disarmed and launched a low-level guerrilla campaign in late 2012 that analysts said was designed to extract political concessions before 2014 elections.

Since then, there have been few reported outbreaks of violence in former Renamo strongholds in the southern African nation's central belt or around Tete, a major coal mining centre.

It is not clear what sparked the latest fighting.

There was no immediate comment from the Mozambique government or Renamo.

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