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Mozambique former rebel leader says ready for talks

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Mozambican leader of former rebel movement Renamo, Afonso Dhlakama, on November 8, 2012 at Gorongosa Mountain, Mozambique. Dhlakama said Wednesday he was prepared to leave his bush camp for talks with the government after strained relations boiled over into deadly violence this year. (AFP/File)

Mozambique's former rebel commander said Wednesday he was prepared to leave his bush camp for talks with the government after strained relations boiled over into deadly violence this year.

"The day President Guebuza withdraws the forces that are encircling Satunjira, Gorongosa, I can go to Maputo. It could be tomorrow," Afonso Dhlakama, president of Renamo, said from his camp in the centre of the country.

Bloody clashes since April marked increasingly strained relations between ruling party Frelimo and Renamo, which is also the official opposition.

President Armando Guebuza said Sunday he was willing to meet with Dhlakama, 60, in the capital.

Thousands of army troops and crack riot police contingents converged around Dhlakama's base after armed men attacked civilian vehicles travelling along the country's main north-south highway late June.

Renamo had threatened such actions, but denied responsibility for the attacks.

"Since (Guebuza) has problems pulling his troops out I invite him to come to Gorongosa...so that we can bring this to an end. Because I cannot be fingered for blame when I am not guilty," Dhlakama said in a statement broadcast by independent television TIM.

His movement demands a change in electoral laws, which it claims unfairly privileges Frelimo.

It also wants more representation of its soldiers in the country's armed forces.

Several rounds of talks between their movements failed, the latest last Monday.

The unofficial ceasefire as well as parliament's announcement of an extra-ordinary session to allow Renamo deputies to table changes to the election law may signal a thaw in relations.

Though the government has played down the violence, there are fears of a return to a 16-year civil war that had destroyed the economy and killed one million people by the time it ended in 1992.

But Dhlakama signalled bringing him back from political isolation would not be easy.

He slammed his Frelimo counterpart as "not a serious leader".

Guebuza, in power since 2005, has meanwhile come under fire for his lack of negotiation.

Independent local media have branded him "arrogant".

"Guebuza has gained a reputation for being an anti-dialogue person and needs to use this opportunity to change perceptions," Victor Igreja, researcher with the University of Queensland, told AFP.

Frelimo won 75 of the vote in 2009-polls, but has been criticised for politicising the state and corruption.