Maputo: The death toll in a roadside gun battle involving a convoy carrying Mozambique's opposition leader Afonso Dhlakama has risen to 20, police said today, heightening tensions in the troubled southern African nation.
Accounts of how Friday's shootout near Imchope in central Mozambique began differ widely, with Dhlakama's Renamo party claiming it was an ambush.
Police say armed men in Dhlakama's 12-vehicle convoy opened fire first on a minibus taxi carrying civilians.
"According to our reports, it seems the minibus came too close to Renamo's convoy, who thought it was attacking, so they opened fire," police commander Armando Mude told AFP.
The minibus driver was killed and three passengers were injured, he said.
When police arrived on the scene a gunfight erupted, Mude told AFP yesterday, saying the death toll was 10 - nine Renamo members and the minibus driver.
"The death toll is now up to 19 deaths from Renamo, and still one civilian (the minibus driver)," Mude said today.
"The police found the 10 other corpses while patrolling in the surroundings," he said.
The surviving Renamo members - apparently including Dhlakama - fled into the bush and a police operation was continuing in the area, Mude said.
It was the second time in two weeks that a convoy carrying Dhlakama, a former rebel leader still at odds with the government, had been involved in a shooting.
Renamo spokesman Antonio Muchanga told reporters at a yesterday's press conference in Maputo that the convoy had been ambushed, with seven Renamo members killed.
He said "dozens" of the attackers, who were in civilian clothes, were killed.
"President Dhlakama is safe and sound and morally very concerned with the path our detractors chose to follow," he said, without specifying the leader's whereabouts.
On September 12, Dhlakama also escaped unhurt after his convoy was hit by gunfire as he returned from a rally in the central Manica province.
Renamo said that was a "planned attack" by the ruling Frelimo party of President Filipe Nyusi and threatened retaliation.
The political situation in Mozambique has been unstable for months, with Dhlakama refusing to recognise the results of 2014 elections and threatening to seize power by force in the northern half of the country.
A ceasefire was signed last year in an attempt to end sporadic outbreaks of violence but has not been fully implemented, with Renamo blaming the government's failure to integrate rebel soldiers into the army and police.