MAPUTO, MOZAMBIQUE, NOV. 3 -- President Joaquim Chissano today called for an immediate end to his country's 15-year civil war, saying a new constitution adopted by the legislature Friday had guaranteed the right of all Mozambicans, including rebels trying to overthrow his government, to organize and compete in democratic, multi-party elections.
"Various political formations can organize themselves, can peacefully spread their political message, defend their ideas, put forward their candidates for the elected bodies of state," Chissano said. "We can only progress further if violence and war no longer mutilate our nation, if freedom also brings the possibility of working, creating and producing in peace."
Speaking at the closing of an extraordinary session of the legislature, or People's Assembly, Chissano urged leaders of the Mozambique National Resistance (Renamo) rebel movement to halt their military campaign and compete for power at the ballot box. His statements came as diplomatic sources reported the scheduled resumption of direct peace talks with Renamo leaders in Rome next week.
Chissano called on this divided southern African nation of 15 million people to show "respect and tolerance and social harmony, never forgetting that, in the final analysis, political debate aims to help solve the people's problems, aims to unite and consolidate the nation, aims to develop the country."
The new 206-article constitution, which takes effect Nov. 30, ends 15 years of one-party rule by Chissano's Mozambique Liberation Front (Frelimo) and limits a president to three five-year terms.
The charter promises strict separation of the executive, legal and legislative branches; gives the assembly veto powers over presidential appointments of the Supreme Court president and vice president; introduces habeus corpus, and abolishes the death penalty, which has not been used legally for four years. The constitution also guarantees freedom of the press, although the state will retain a monopoly over television and radio.
Most analysts said the new constitution would improve chances of a peace settlement when the warring sides resume direct talks. The goal is to end one of Africa's most brutal conflicts, which, according to United Nations' estimates, has killed 600,000 people and left several million homeless and dependent on international food aid.
The new constitution addresses Renamo's main political demands for direct elections by secret ballot in a multi-party democracy, a free enterprise economy and freedom of religion.
Before a peace settlement is reached, however, the two sides must agree on terms of a cease-fire, as well as potentially thorny issues involving integration of the government and rebel armies and preparation for general elections next year. Diplomatic sources said a government commission has begun work on plans to combine the two warring armies.
In effect, the People's Assembly voted itself out of existence, although it will be dissolved only after fresh elections are held, possibly next year, for seats in the Assembly of the Republic, as the new legislature will be known. The new constitution also drops the word "People's" from the country's official name, which will be the Republic of Mozambique.
A new electoral law and rules regulating the registration of political parties are not expected to be ready until the end of the month or early December.