Death toll from Mozambique roadside gun battle rises to 20

Police say armed men in Dhlakama’s 12-vehicle convoy opened fire first on a minibus taxi carrying civilians.

"A file picture taken in Gorongosa's mountains shows fighters of former Mozambican rebel movement Renamo receive military training. Jinty Jackson/AFP

PRETORIA - The death toll in a roadside gun battle involving a convoy carrying Mozambique's opposition leader Afonso Dhlakama has risen to 20.

Police say armed men in Dhlakama's 12-vehicle convoy opened fire first on a minibus taxi carrying civilians.

The Mozambican National Resistance (Renamo) insists they were ambushed.

The minibus driver was killed and three passengers were injured before police arrived on the scene and a gunfight erupted.

The surviving Renamo members, apparently including Dhlakama, fled into the bush and a police operation continues in the area.

It's the second time in two weeks that a convoy carrying Dhlakama, a former rebel leader still at odds with the government, had been involved in a shooting.

Two years ago Renamo began a low-level insurgency against the government, two decades after its devastating 16-year civil war with Frelimo ended.

Last year, Mozambique's Parliament approved an amnesty law that allowed opposition Dhlakama to leave his hideaway in the bush, sign a peace accord with President Armando Guebuza and run in the 15 October elections.

The law approved also applied to Dhlakama's supporters, who had clashed with the government army since 2012. The violence raised fears for stability in the southern African nation, threatening its big coal and offshore gas deposits.

The amnesty was part of a peace deal between Renamo and Guebuza's ruling Frelimo party, old foes in a 1975-1992 civil war, and meant Dhlakama was not to face prosecution or arrest for the attacks carried out by his followers in previous years.

Dhlakama, whose former rebel movement has been repeatedly defeated by Frelimo in elections since the end of the war, has lived in a bush base in central Sofala province for more than a year to escape what he said was government persecution.