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Mozambique Journalist, Jose Tembe
"The deaths may have been related to over-crowding"
 real 56k

Thursday, 23 November, 2000, 18:37 GMT
Mass prison deaths in Mozambique

The Prime Minister of Mozambique, Pascoal Mocumbi, has said that up to 70 inmates have died at a prison in the north of the country.

He said they showed no apparent signs of violence.

There is no word on the cause of the deaths, which all happened on Tuesday night at a jail at Montepuez thought to be full of opposition supporters arrested earlier this month

A team of South African doctors has arrived in Mozambique to help investigate the deaths which are thought could have been due to suffocation from over-crowding, food poisoning or lack of water.

Prime Minister Pascoal Mocumbi said the government had sent a team of experts to the town of Montepuez, some 1,600 km (1,000 miles) north of the capital, Maputo.

The United Nations, European Union and the Commonwealth have also been invited to help investigate, he said.

Prison full

The town's prison population had swollen earlier this month after three days of clashes between police and about 500 opposition Renamo supporters.

Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama
Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama has put protests on hold
At least 30 people died in Montepuez alone.

The violence occured after Renamo called for a series of protests in several cities and provinces against what it claimed were rigged general elections in December last year.

"They are talking of between 50 and 70" dead inmates," the prime minister said at his regular news conference in Maputo.

"As far as I know, there was no violence."

Tensions

A national day of mourning was held just over a week ago for the victims of the violence, about 38 in total, including six policemen.

The opposition alliance of Renamo and nine other smaller parties took 117 out of the 250 parliamentary seats in the 1999 elections and have long disputed the victory gained by President Chissano's Frelimo party.

International observers declared the election free and fair.

Earlier this year, Mr Dhlakama threatened to form his own government in his powerbase in central Mozambique

Renamo and Frelimo fought a 16-year civil war until 1992 when they signed a peace accord leading to the country's first multi-party elections two years later.

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See also:

16 Nov 99 | Africa
Queen's praise for Mozambique
10 Nov 00 | Africa
Mozambique clashes leave 26 dead
13 Nov 00 | Africa
Mozambique mourns dead
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