Mozambique's government accused revived rebel movement Renamo on Wednesday of attacking a coal train belonging to Brazilian miner Vale, as a simmering conflict struck a vital artery of the country's economy.
"Renamo shot at a train transporting coal and hit the driver in the leg," Deputy Interior Minister Jose Mandra said on state-run radio, describing the attack in central Sofala province late on Tuesday despite ongoing peace talks.
But the movement, which is also the Southern African country's main opposition party, denied attacking the strategically important Sena railway line used by foreign mining companies.
"Since this conflict began Renamo has never attacked the Sena line. Why would we, today when we are reaching an agreement … attack the Sena line?" Renamo spokesperson Antonio Muchunga told Agence France-Presse in the capital, Maputo.
Renamo last year threatened to carry out strikes against key installations, including the Sena line, which transports coal from the north-western Tete province to the coastal port of Beira.
The Brazilian miner said it would stop using the line pending a probe after "several shots" were fired at the locomotive.
"Vale's operations on the railway line have been temporarily suspended to aid the course of the investigation," the company said in a statement.
Involvement in unrest
Last June, Anglo-Australian miner Rio Tinto temporarily halted exports via the same line following the threats.
Renamo frequently denies allegations of its involvement in unrest. It is also not always clear whether attackers actually are part of the movement or taking advantage of the situation.
Muchunga claimed the Frelimo-led state attacked the railway itself to discredit their opponents.
"This attack was perpetrated by the forces of the government," he said, reiterating the party's much-used counter-accusation against the government since their conflict was reignited in 2012.
The attack, at around 9pm (7pm GMT) on Tuesday, took place between the towns of Muanza and Dondo in the central Sofala province.
The injured driver managed to reach the city of Beira after uncoupling most of the wagons. Authorities had since retrieved the remaining wagons, according to the deputy interior minister.
"This was an effort to destabilise the country," Mandra claimed.
Agreement on a ceasefire
The attack took place as negotiators from Renamo and the government continued to hold talks aimed at easing tensions in the capital Maputo and appeared close to reaching agreement on a ceasefire.
Local media have reported a series of military skirmishes in Sofala province over the past week.
The Sena railway is currently the main export route for Tete's vast coal reserves – thought to be the largest untapped source in the world.
Last month Vale said it hoped to double exports from Mozambique by 2015 after the completion of a $6.5-billion terminal and another 900km railway line.
Transport problems are largely to blame for low export volumes since mining started in 2011. Last year Vale Mozambique posted a loss of over $480-million after exporting just three-million tonnes.
Five years after investing in the Tete province – considered one of the world's largest untapped coalfields, the company has yet to make a profit.
Failed peace talks
The former rebel Mozambican National Resistance, or Renamo, became the official opposition after a peace treaty in 1992 ended its 16-year civil war against the ruling Mozambique National Front party, otherwise known as Frelimo.
But Renamo took up weapons again after its leader Afonso Dhlakama returned to one of its wartime base camps in 2012.
Since last year gunmen reportedly from Renamo have killed scores of people – mostly civilians – in attacks on vehicles along the main north-south highway.
The movement demanded – and was granted – greater inclusion in electoral bodies, as well a share of lucrative new mining revenues as the country gears up for massive natural gas exploitation.
Despite making progress, peace talks launched more than a year ago have so far failed to halt the attacks.
Negotiators in March agreed to allow international observers attend their peace talks.
The government hopes to agree on a deal before presidential elections in October, when Renamo may lose its official opposition status to a new political party, the Mozambique Democratic Movement. – AFP