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An African Arm-Twist Saves the Day

THE United Nations has claimed a major success with the holding of Mozambique's first multiparty election, offering hopes for peacekeeping on a continent of failed missions and broken promises.

The southern African country, one of the world's poorest, was wrecked by nearly two decades of brutal civil war; it was an unlikely candidate for political stability.

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Diplomats, the UN, and Mozambicans worried it would mirror another former Portuguese colony, Angola, which plunged back into civil war two years ago after the rebel movement there rejected electoral defeat.

But disaster in Mozambique was averted by strong international pressure, including a united front of intervention when the leader of the opposition Mozambique National Resistance Movement (Renamo), Gen. Afonso Dhlakama, cried fraud and called a boycott just hours before the three-day poll opened on Oct. 27.

UN officials and African leaders persuaded General Dhlakama the next day to rejoin the process, and wrung promises from him to respect the results. In turn, they said they would take seriously his fraud allegations.

Diplomats expect Dhlakama to complain about vote rigging when final results are announced within the next 11 days, if, as expected, his rival President Joaquim Chissano is declared the winner and Frelimo continues its nearly 20-year rule.

About 90 percent of the 6.4 million electorate voted and there were few incidents - a remarkable achievement for a country with a ruined infrastructure and 75 percent illiteracy after 16 years of war.

``I am satisfied,'' said Aldo Ajello, the UN special representative in Mozambique who has been overseeing the two-year-old peace accords signed in Rome between the formerly Marxist Mozambique Liberation Front (Frelimo) government and Renamo rebels.

``We had studied carefully what happened in Angola. We had taken our measures,'' Mr. Ajello said.

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In Angola, the UN had held elections before proper demobilization of the military, and posted only a couple hundred observers with limited mandate instead of peacekeeping troops.

Part of Mozambique's success was due to the determination of the UN - which had spent $1 million a day on Mozambique's peace process - not to repeat the mistakes of Angola.

This time it stationed 7,000 peacekeepers and 2,400 international electoral observers across the country and ensured that a total 70,000 fighters from both sides were at least partially demobilized before the poll.

Dhlakama and his men were lured from the bush by a $17-million UN-supervised trust fund to make the transition to a political party - an unprecedented measure in modern peacekeeping.

Diplomats doubt Renamo will use stockpiles of weapons believed hidden in the bush to start a new war, and say a coalition government can be formed.

Angola - with its similar colonial history and destabilization by superpower rivalry and South Africa's erstwhile apartheid rules - offered a more applicable blueprint for Mozambique than the experience of other countries such as Cambodia and Somalia.

The demise of the white minority government in South Africa - which once armed Renamo - and creation of a new democratic system there provided a potential anchor for regional stability.

In itself, Mozambique is too poor to be strategically important. But international observers are concerned that political uncertainty here could threaten neighboring South Africa's fragile new democracy and economic development in the region.

With new peace accords on the horizon in Angola, Mozambique was a potential snag in a southern African carpet of extraordinary peaceful transitions to multiparty rule in Nambia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia, and South Africa.

Dhlakama realized his isolation when 11 ``Frontline'' states, as the countries surrounding South Africa were called during the apartheid-era, made threats of military intervention at a meeting in Harare, Zimbabwe, two days before Mozambique's elections.

The Renamo leader, who is trying to shake off his movement's international image of a group of bandits and butchers, was flattered by the attentions of two of Mr. Chissano's longtime allies - South African Deputy President Thabo Mbeki and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.

Diplomats say it is ironic that Mr. Mugabe, who had sent Zimbabwean troops to Mozambique to aid Frelimo during the war, in winning the admiration of his former foe, and alienating Chissano in the pursuit of peace.

Mr. Mbeki flew to Maputo to try to persuade Dhlakama to stop the boycott. Mugabe kept dialogue flowing with constant telephone contact with Dhlakama.

After British and US diplomats failed to convince Dhlakama to end his boycott, Don Matteo Zuppi of Italy San Egidio community - which helped mediate the 1992 cease-fire - visited him at this Maputo villa to save the day.

``There was pressure on Dhlakama and he listened most to those he trusted. I believe what really convinced him was the will of the people,'' Mr. Zuppi said.

The challenge now is to convince Frelimo hard-liners to form a national-unity government with Renamo. Ajello has been meeting separately over the past week with Chissano and Dhlakama to shape post-electoral reconciliation.

Dhlakama told reporters he would be happy with the agriculture portfolio, but Chissano has coyly refused to confirm whether or not he would be willing to include the Renamo leader in a possible future cabinet.

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