Mozambican ex-rebel group Renamo staged a pre-dawn attack on a police station Tuesday, hours after it declared the end of a peace deal signed 21 years ago, locals said.
Police fled the station in the central town of Maringue when Renamo members opened fire on it, escalating hostilities between the rebel group-turned-opposition party and the government of ruling party Frelimo, the group against which Renamo fought a bloody 16-year civil war.
"Gunmen attacked the police station but fortunately there were no casualties because the policemen fled the post," Maringue's administrator Antonio Absalao told AFP by phone.
The town is located about 35 kilometres from Renamo's military base, which government troops seized on Monday in an operation the ex-rebels claimed was aimed at killing their leader, Afonso Dhlakama.
"The situation is horrible here. Early this morning, armed men supposed to be Renamo attacked, and it was a mess," said Romao Martins, a local teacher.
"For one hour shooting could be heard from all directions and people fled from their homes," he said.
Schools have been shut amid fears of an escalation in violence.
A Renamo spokesman hinted that the group was responsible for the attack.
"The president of Renamo has lost control of the situation and you cannot blame... (him) for what happens from here on," Renamo's Fernando Mazanga told AFP.
"The guerrillas are scattered and will attack without taking any orders," said Mazanga.
Renamo, which launched a rebellion against the then-communist Frelimo government after Mozambique gained independence from Portugal in 1975, declared Monday that it had pulled out of the peace agreement that ended that conflict.
Mazanga said Monday's attack on its base "marks the end of multiparty democracy" in Mozambique.
The Mozambique civil war, which ended in 1992 after Renamo lost its Cold War backers Rhodesia and apartheid South Africa, killed about one million Mozambicans.
Tensions between the two sides began escalating last year after Dhlakama set up camp in the Gorongosa mountains, retraining former guerrilla fighters.
The assault on the Renamo base came after the former rebel movement attacked a government military unit on Thursday.
Defence ministry spokesman Custodio Chume told state broadcaster Radio Mozambique that Monday's assault on the Renamo base was in response to that attack.