By Manuel Mucari
MAPUTO (Reuters) - Mozambique's Renamo opposition leader Afonso Dhlakama said on Friday he intended to run as a candidate in an October 15 presidential election, but he demanded safety guarantees from the government to be able to leave his bush hideout.
Dhlakama, who led the former Renamo rebel movement in Mozambique's 1975-1992 civil war and has been repeatedly defeated by the ruling Frelimo party in subsequent elections, has lived in the central Mozambican bush for more than a year to escape what he says is government persecution.
"I am interested in coming out of the bush to start my party work for the presidential election," Dhlakama told reporters in a conference call made from his base in central Sofala province, well north of the capital of Maputo.
But he demanded guarantees from the government of President Armando Guebuza that his safety would be respected, and an agreement for military members of his Renamo party to be integrated into the national army and police.
Since April last year, Renamo partisans have carried out sporadic raids on police and military posts in parts of central and southern Mozambique. They have also ambushed vehicles on the N1 highway, killing several dozen people, disrupting traffic and causing cancellations in the tourism industry.
Earlier this month, Dhlakama registered to vote in the October elections, which allows him to run as a candidate.
Renamo spokesman Antonio Muchanga told reporters the party's National Council backed Dhlakama as its presidential contender.
Whoever wins the October 15 vote is expected to help bring to fruition major coal and offshore natural gas investment projects that have the potential to bring billions of dollars to a nation that was in ruins two decades ago.
Dhlakama accuses Frelimo and Guebuza of monopolizing political and economic power. The constitution bars Guebuza from running for a third term and former Defence Minister Filipe Nyusibut will run as the Frelimo candidate.
Other contenders include Daviz Simango, the leader of the other main opposition party, the Mozambique Democratic Movement.
(Reporting by Manuel Mucari; Writing by Pascal Fletcher; editing by David Dolan)