MAPUTO, Mozambique -- A partial cease-fire between Mozambique's government and a tenacious guerrilla movement is being hailed as a major breakthrough toward ending an almost 16-year civil war that has killed 200,000 people and displaced more than 2 million.
Over the weekend, the Mozambique Resistance Movement, widely known by its Portuguese acronym Renamo, agreed to a truce along two railway corridors from Mozambican ports on the Indian Ocean to land-locked Zimbabwe.
Renamo entered into the accord the day after a new constitution went into effect Friday in Mozambique that incorporated key Renamo demands. The new constitution provides for a multiple party system, popular elections next year if peace is achieved and a free-market economy.
In writing the constitution, the ruling Mozambican Liberation Front (Frelimo) reversed its main policies adopted at independence in 1975 -- a socialist government and one-party state.
"The agreement represents a significant first step in reducing hostilities and should build confidence between the parties," a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Maputo said.
"I see the accord as an important step," said David Laubscher, South Africa's trade representative in Maputo. "It is something on which to build for a future accord."
The government and Renamo reached the accord during a third round of negotiations in Rome under the auspices of the Italian government and Sant' Egido, a private Catholic welfare organization.
The accord calls for establishment of a joint verification commission to monitor the cease-fire along the railway corridors. Commission members will include representatives of Mozambique's government, Renamo, Zimbabwe and seven other countries to be selected.
Western diplomats said inclusion of Renamo -- described as murderous, South Africa-backed bandits until a short time ago -- on the monitoring commission was important because the entire commission would be based in Maputo with diplomatic status, giving the rebels new legitimacy in Mozambique's capital.
A fourth round of talks between the government and Renamo is expected to begin early next year.
Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano has urged Renamo to accept a nationwide cease-fire and participate in the new open political process.
Renamo said it rejected the new constitution because Frelimo wrote the document without input by any other political party.