When Mozambique gained independence from Portugal in 1975 after about 400 years of colonisation, the country soon plunged into a long civil war.
On 4 October 1992, after 2 years of negotiations, the warring parties signed a General Peace Agreement, with the support of the United Nations (UN).
The UN Security Council established the United Nations Operation in Mozambique (ONUMOZ, from Operação das Nações Unidas em Moçambique) to monitor and support a ceasefire. ONUMOZ also worked to demobilise forces and introduce national elections.
Australian police were one of the first contingents of civilian police to arrive in the country in March 1994. Their job was to monitor for human rights abuses.
The UN also set up an Accelerated De-mining Program (UNADP) to train locals in de-mining operations.
From September 1994 to March 2002, a total of 31 Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel were part of ONUMOZ, then the UNADP. By the time the Australians left, the UNADP was considered a flagship de-mining operation.
Civil war and instability
Mozambique sits on the Indian Ocean in south-eastern Africa. It's bordered by Tanzania to the north, Malawi and Zambia to the north-west, Zimbabwe to the west, and Eswatini and South Africa to the south-west.
In 1498, Portuguese explorer Vasco De Gama arrived in the country. Over the next few years, the Portuguese settled and colonised Mozambique, ruling for more than 400 years.
Mozambique gained independence in 1975. The Liberation Front of Mozambique (FRELIMO, from Frente de Libertação de Moçambique) took control of the country and established a government.
But FRELIMO's control of the country was shaky. In 1977, Mozambique plunged into a long civil war between the FRELIMO government and the Mozambican National Resistance (RENAMO, from Resistência Nacional Moçambicana).
During the intervening 2 years, FRELIMO turned to communist backers for support and became a Marxist-Leninist party. RENAMO, supported by the South African government, opposed the government policies of collectivism and changes to traditional religious and authority structures.
The tipping point to war was FRELIMO declaring Mozambique a one-party state.
The civil war lasted about 15 years and:
- caused about 1 million deaths
- internally displaced at least 3 million people
- resulted in 1.7 million refugees, out of a total population of 13 to 15 million.
On 4 October 1992, after 2 years of negotiations, the President of Mozambique and the Leader of RENAMO signed a General Peace Agreement, with the support of the UN. This was known as the Rome General Peace Accords.
The UN Security Council established ONUMOZ to monitor and support a ceasefire. ONUMOZ also worked to demobilise forces and introduce national elections.
UN peacekeeping efforts
In early 1993, about 6,500 troops and military observers went to Mozambique. They were led by the Secretary-General's Special Representative, Aldo Ajello.
The UN also set up and chaired a Supervisory and Monitoring Commission that included:
- the Mozambique government
- Italy, as a mediator state
- the United Kingdom and the United States, as observer states at the Rome talks
- the Organization of African Unity (OAU).
ONUMOZ also began offering humanitarian assistance to the millions of people displaced by war. In 1993, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees started repatriating 1.3 million refugees.
Over the next 2 years, ONUMOZ demobilised more than 76,000 soldiers from both sides, with 10,000 integrated into Mozambique's new national army. ONUMOZ also recovered about 155,000 weapons.
From December 1992 to December 1994, a total of 26 UN personnel were killed, including 2 civilian police. Many of these deaths were caused by mines or improvised explosive devices left in their original place after the conflict.
The country held its first multi-party elections in October 1994. About 2,300 civilian international observers, including 900 from the UN, monitored the election.
FRELIMO won both the parliamentary and presidential elections.
ONUMOZ was wound up at the end of January 1995.
United Nations Accelerated De-mining Program
Conservative estimates put the number of mines laid during the civil war at about 1 million.
About 562 km2 of the country was affected by mines and unexploded ordnance, with few maps showing their location.
At first, ONUMOZ focused on clearing mines from major roads to allow for humanitarian aid and the return of refugees and internally displaced persons.
In May 1994, the United Nations Office for Humanitarian Assistance Coordination (UNOHAC) took over this task. It hoped to train 450 Mozambicans by the end of 1994.
When ONUMOZ left the country, the Mozambique government, working with the UN Department of Humanitarian Affairs, created the Accelerated De-mining Program (UNADP), with a staff of about 500 Mozambicans.
Australians in Mozambique
The Australian Government, led by then Prime Minister Paul Keating, was initially reluctant to commit many troops to the peacekeeping process in Mozambique. This meant the ADF was among the last to join the UN mission.
However, Australian police were one of the first contingents of civilian police to arrive in Mozambique, in March 1994. A total of 32 Australian police officers, in 2 contingents, joined international civilian police efforts (CIVPOL) to build peace to allow for democratic elections.
The UN Mandate for CIVPOL revolved around monitoring the local Mozambique police force and other security agencies. The Australian contingent brought their experience of community policing to the peacekeeping process.
The Australians withdrew from Mozambique in January 2002 when the UN transitioned the de-mining operations to several non-government organisations.
Civilian police peacekeeper
One of the civilian police peacekeepers was Vietnam veteran Geoff Hazel, who had been sworn into the Australian Capital Territory police (now part of the Australian Federal Police) in 1972. His first peacekeeping deployment in 1992 was with the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP).
In 1994, Hazel went to Mozambique as the commander of the second Australian contingent. While there, he also served as Chief Regional Investigations Officer.
Hazel was awarded the UN Commissioner's Commendation for his services in Mozambique. In 2001, he received the Australian Police Medal in the New Year's honours list.
The UN sent in fixed battalions, forward battalions, military observers, civilian police, and an election component, as well as the usual admin people that were there ... Our job was [to investigate] human rights abuses. Any human rights abuses we had to investigate, no matter which side, monitoring the police in what they did, monitoring the prisons, which was a big one, or potentially a big one.
[Geoff Hazel, in Veterans' Stories interview 'Geoff Hazel - UN roles', Department of Veterans' Affairs]
Learn more about Hazel's time in Mozambique.
From 1994 until 2002, the ADF provided a series of 2-person de-mining teams to work first with ONUMOZ, and then the UNADP.
Their roles were to:
- provide engineering instructional support for the de-mining program of ONUMOZ
- teach mine awareness, detection and destruction.
This deployment was known as Operation Coracle. A total of 31 Australians served in Mozambique during this period.
Three members of Operation Coracle – Major Peter Macintosh, Warrant Officer Class 1 David Sinai and Warrant Officer Class 1 Laurie Mountain – received Conspicuous Service Medals for their time in Mozambique.
Major (later Brigadier) Peter Clay led Australia’s first rotation to Mozambique. He and his team taught mine-clearing techniques to local soldiers at the Mine Clearance Training Centre.
Clay made a home movie to show his wife and other family members what day-to-day life was like as a peacekeeper in Mozambique. He tells the audience:
If Australia is the lucky country, Mozambique is the unlucky country.
It was 6:30 am on a day in November 1994, when the heat was set to reach 45oC. Despite the heat and other challenges, such as infighting between donor countries and the UN, and the ongoing threat of mine detonation, Clay was confident in the mission's success.
Over 18 months almost nothing had been done. Guess we're blowing our own trumpet here a bit, but the place has come ahead in leaps and bounds and we're quite confident we will reach the UN target of 450 training people by November.
Clay was to be proven right. When Operation Coracle began, the UNADP was ineffective. By the time the Australians left 8 years later, it was considered one of the best de-mining operations in the world.
The ADF and its New Zealand Defence Force counterparts would become the stalwarts of the UNADP. By the time they left, the UNADP was known for having one of the world's best-trained and most advanced de-mining programs. Their efforts in Mozambique were seen as a flagship operation.
National Peacekeepers' Day
On 14 September each year, we observe National Peacekeepers' Day. It's the anniversary of the day Australia became the world's first peacekeepers to deploy into the field, in the Netherlands East Indies (now Indonesia) in 1947. It’s a day to recognise the important work of those who have served, and continue to serve, in the name of global peace.
Learn more about Australia's peacekeeping missions since 1947.
National Police Remembrance Day
On 28 September each year, all police jurisdictions in Australia honour those officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty, including on global peacekeeping operations.
International Day of UN Peacekeepers
29 May is a day of commemoration and acknowledgement of all military, police and civilian personnel who have served as peacekeepers with the UN. Since UN peacekeeping began, more than 4,000 peacekeepers from many countries have lost their lives while performing their duties under the UN flag.
Australian Federal Police (2014), 'AFP marks 20 years in Mozambique', AFP Platypus Magazine, Jan-June 2014, accessed 5 August 2022, http://www5.austlii.edu.au/au/journals/AUFPPlatypus/2014/8.pdf
Australian War Memorial (2020), 'Mine clearing in Mozambique', Wartime magazine, Issue 88, 4 February, last updated 30 March 2021, accessed 5 August 2022, https://www.awm.gov.au/wartime/88/article-five
Australian War Memorial (undated), Mozambique election caption, accessed 5 August 2022, https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C966618
Bou, Jean; Breen, Bob; Horner, David; Pratten, Garth; de Vogel, Miesje (2019). The Limits of Peacekeeping: Volume 4, The Official History of Australian Peacekeeping, Humanitarian and Post-Cold War Operations: Australian Missions in Africa and the Americas, 1992–2005. Cambridge University Press. Kindle edition.
Government of Canada, 'United Nations Accelerated De-mining Program: Mozambique', last updated 11 December 2018, accessed 5 August 2022, https://www.canada.ca/en/department-national-defence/services/military-history/history-heritage/past-operations/africa/module.html
Hazel, Geoff (2021), 'Geoff Hazel - UN roles', Veterans' Stories oral history interview, Department of Veterans' Affairs Anzac Portal, accessed 5 August 2022, https://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/resources/geoff-hazel-un-roles
United Nations Peacekeeping (undated), 'Mozambique- ONUMOZ' https://peacekeeping.un.org/sites/default/files/past/onumozFT.htm
Wikipedia contributors, 'Mozambican Civil War', Wikipedia, accessed 5 August 2022, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Mozambican_Civil_War&direction=prev&oldid=1105852800.