Mozambique’s president and the leader of the Renamo opposition signed a peace accord on Thursday to end years of hostilities that followed a 15-year civil war.
The former rebel group’s remaining fighters are disarming just weeks before a visit by Pope Francis and a national election that will test the now-political rivals’ new resolve. The permanent cease-fire is the culmination of years of negotiations to end fighting that has flared several times in the more than 25 years since the end of the civil war in which an estimated 1 million people died.
Pope Francis has said he is coming to promote reconciliation in the southern African country of some 30 million people. The Catholic church’s Sant’Egidio community helped to negotiate the war’s end in 1992 and the church has encouraged peace since then.
President Filipe Nyusi and Renamo leader Ossufo Momade signed, shook hands and embraced at Gorongosa National Park, near the Renamo headquarters where the group has maintained an armed base for more than 40 years. Of the more than 5,200 fighters who are disarming, some 800 are coming down from their camp on Mount Gorongosa and register for employment at the wildlife park.
The accord will be followed by another agreement to be signed in Mozambique’s capital, Maputo, on Aug. 6 pledging peace in the Oct. 15 national elections. Previous elections have been marked by violence and Renamo allegations that the ruling Frelimo party rigged the results.
Renamo, which is the Portuguese acronym for National Resistance of Mozambique, became an opposition party after the civil war but had never fully disarmed until now.
“This agreement has historic significance because up ‘til now Mozambique has had an opposition party in parliament that also has armed fighters in the countryside. Now there can be peace,” said Neha Sanghrajka, a negotiator of the deal. Unlike in previous peace efforts the important issues have been implemented before the signing, she said.
The issues include an amnesty for rebel fighters that Nyusi signed earlier this week and a constitutional amendment that stipulates provincial governors will be elected rather than appointed by the central government.