MAPUTO - Mozambican ex-rebel group Renamo staged a pre-dawn attack on a police station Tuesday after declaring the end of a two-decade-old peace deal that ended one of Africa's worst civil wars, officials and locals said.
Police fled their post in the central town of Maringue when Renamo fighters opened fire in an escalation of hostilities between the ex-rebels and Frelimo, the ruling party against which Renamo fought a bloody 16-year war that ended in 1992.
"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 (20 miles) 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 Maringue 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.
The United States said it "profoundly deplores" the resumption of violence, urging both parties to take "decisive steps to calm tensions".
"We will welcome public declarations of representatives calling for peaceful solutions," the US embassy in Maputo added in a statement.
A spokesman for Renamo - the Mozambique National Resistance, which became a political party with a parliamentary minority after the civil war - hinted that the group was responsible for Tuesday's attack.
"The president of Renamo has lost control of the situation and you cannot blame... (him) for what happens from here on," Fernando Mazanga told AFP.
"The guerrillas are scattered and will attack without taking any orders," he said.
Renamo, which took up arms against the then-communist government of Frelimo - the Mozambique Liberation Front - after independence from Portugal in 1975, declared Monday that it had pulled out of the peace agreement that ended the civil war.