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Mozambique Port Project Revives Hope

IN the harbor of this vital southeast African port city, the sounds of construction almost drown out the breaking Indian Ocean waves. When the $200 million, donor-funded rehabilitation of this port is finished in 1991, about half of all of southern Africa's trade will be able to pass through it. Already, one-third of landlocked Zimbabwe's exports, formerly routed through South Africa, go through Beira.

Yet some observers say such prospects are pie-in-the-sky optimism in a country that is ravaged by poverty, famine, and a six-year-old civil war.

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South African-backed right-wing guerrillas control most of the territory between Beira and the capital, Maputo. Overland travel between the two cities is possible only with a heavily armed escort.

Despite South Africa's pledge five years ago to stop supporting the Mozambique National Resistance Movement, the fighting has intensified.

So has the flight of Mozambican refugees from the war, which the United States State Department described last year as ``one of the most brutal holocausts against ordinary human beings.''

According to the United Nations, 2.9 million of Mozambique's 15 million people are unable to grow enough food to feed themselves because of the fighting. Another 1 million have become refugees in neighboring countries, while 1.7 million are displaced within the country.

At a UN emergency-aid meeting in April, donors pledged 90 percent of the $362 million requested for 1989.

But Mozambique's government hopes that developments elsewhere in southern Africa - namely the Angolan cease-fire agreement last month - signal a change in South Africa's attitude toward its neighbors. Meanwhile, the Mozambican government and its donors are vigorously pursuing projects that they hope will have a more lasting impact than emergency aid. To recoup the investment in Beira, the government must protect a narrow corridor between the port and Zimbabwe. Rebel attacks on the 150-mile corridor still occur, but some foreign firms have shown enough confidence in the Mozambican Army to expand their operations.

Peasants, too, are benefiting from the Army's protection along the corridor. In the village of Tandara, 140 families have returned from Zimbabwe refugee camps.

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