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Mozambique: `treading water'. Machel's possible successors unlikely to change his policies

Shock is gradually giving way to a sense of sadness and resignation in Mozambique. Yesterday, the country began mourning the death of President Samora Machel, the man who led it through 10 years of struggle against Portuguese colonialism and since independence in 1975.

Mr. Machel was killed in a plane crash Sunday. Accompanied by a number of key Mozambican officials, the President had been en route to Maputo from a meeting in Zambia when the plane went down in northeastern South Africa. [Pretoria faces regional tension in wake of crash. Story, Page 11.]

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``Now Mozambique is just treading water,'' says one foreign diplomat.

Mr. Machel's passing leaves a huge vacuum in Mozambique's Marxist government and robs the nation of a charismatic leader who was adept at rallying popular support, despite domestic crises.

Observers here say members of the Central Committee of the ruling party, the Mozambique Liberation Front (Frelimo), will lead the government until a successor is chosen.

But choosing someone to follow in Machel's footsteps will not be easy in this country ravaged by war and economic turmoil.

Most analysts here believe that Machel's successor will be either Prime Minister M'ario Machungo or Foreign Minister Joaquim Chissano.

As former head of Mozambique's planning and trade ministries, Mr. Machungo is an expert at economic and domestic policy.

Mr. Chissano, by contrast, is one of Mozambique's leading intellectuals. Having served as foreign minister since independence in 1975, he is its most experienced diplomat. Foreign observers here say he is key to some recent efforts made by the Marxist government to establish better relations with the West.

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But both local and foreign analysts say neither man is likely to make dramatic changes in policies in the near future. Frelimo's 11-man politburo has functioned as a tightknit unit for 16 years. While Machel was the undisputed leader and chief of armed forces, government policy was formed by consensus.

The greatest challenges facing Machel's successor are the decade-old war against South African-backed rebels of Renamo, the Mozambique National Resistance movement, and the nation's crisis-ridden economy.

Frelimo appears committed to a military solution to the conflict. The Army, however, is said to be disorganized and demoralized by its inability to score major gains against Renamo. In the past two months, Renamo has had several major victories in the northern regions.

In recent months, Machel had vowed to replace senior Army commanders who failed to master modern military tactics. The Frelimo leadership has also sharply criticized the armed forces for their poor performance against Renamo.

Many analysts say that unless the Army high command is reorganized soon, there is little hope that the war can be brought to an end. But, a he new president will find it hard to reorganize without alienating top commanders, and thereby endanger his support.

Renamo guerrilla leaders have also ruled out any possibility of a negotiated solution, no matter who takes the helm.

The cause of the plane crash is still unknown. Both Renamo and South Africa have denied playing any role.

Mozambique's relations with the white-minority government in South Africa had reached a low point earlier this month. The 1984 Nkomati Accord, a pact between the two countries in which each agreed to cease supporting their neighbor's internal insurgency, is in tatters. Each side blames the other for breaking the agreement. It is widely held by black southern African states and Western officials that Mozambique has adhered to the pact, while South Africa has not.

The Mozambican government has not accused South Africa of involvement in the crash. But neither are officials here yet calling the crash an accident

They say that Pretoria's efforts to destabilize their nation, including support of Renamo, have cost nearly $5 billion and tens of thousands of lives.

An editorial in the daily newspaper, Noticias, yesterday, pointed out that Machel played a key role in efforts by South Africa's neighbors to unite against white-ruled Pretoria's grip on the entire region. Machel, said the editorial, was therefore a target for South Africa.

The plane's Soviet pilot, who survived the crash, has claimed that he heard a bang and believes he was shot down. Most reports suggest, however, that severe weather conditions caused the crash. South African officials have invited both Mozambique and the International Civil Aviation Organization to take part in a probe of the crash. The flight recorder of the Soviet-built plane was found and put in a sealed container in the presence of Mozambican officials Monday.

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