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Mozambique truce extended, boosting peace deal hopes

By Manuel Mucari

MAPUTO (Reuters) - Mozambique's Renamo opposition party and rebel movement extended a ceasefire by two months on Friday to allow further peace talks with President Filipe Nyusi's government, raising hopes of an end to years of tit-for-tat violence.

A long-term deal would strengthen Nyusi's position ahead of a conference of the ruling Frelimo party in September at which he is expected to be re-elected leader despite a high-profile debt scandal hanging over him.

Mozambique, one of the world's poorest countries, is struggling to repay loans of more than $2 billion that were not approved by parliament or disclosed publicly. Prime Minister Carlos Agostinho do Rosario said this week Mozambique would need to restructure part of the debt.

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Renamo and Frelimo fought on opposing sides in a civil war from 1976 to 1992 in which a million people died before a peace accord ended the fighting. But Renamo retains its own militia.

Both sides have clashed sporadically since Renamo challenged the results of the southern African nation's 2014 elections. The ceasefire was due to end on Friday having been extended by two months on January 3.

Dhlakama told reporters in a telephone call from his bush hideout in central Mozambique that Renamo would be extending the deadline until May 4.

"Peace is sacred," Dhlakama told reporters. "We intend to achieve true peace, the definitive peace, where Mozambicans can enjoy free circulation and develop the economy of the country."

He and Nyusi have not met since February 2015 and mutual distrust has led to several ceasefires collapsing since Frelimo won the disputed 2014 vote.

Since the poll, Renamo has demanded it rule in the six provinces where it won the most votes, while the government has called for the opposition to disarm before opening discussions.

Fighting between the two sides usually takes place in remote areas, making it difficult to assess the extent of the conflict.

However, coal trains operated by Brazilian mining giant Vale have been shot at, leading to occasional suspension of services.

Tens of thousands of Mozambicans have fled across the border into Malawi to escape violence and alleged human rights abuses.

(Reporting by Manuel Mucari; Writing by Nqobile Dludla and Joe Brock; Editing by Ed Cropley)