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Portuguese, Freed by Mozambican Rebels, Home for Christmas

December 24, 1986

LISBON, Portugal (AP) _ A group of 40 Portuguese citizens released last week by Mozambique’s South African-backed rebels arrived here Wednesday.

″We’ve finally made it home, thank God,″ Leopoldina Silva told reporters after the group’s flight from Maputo, the Mozambican capital, arrived in Lisbon.

Mrs. Silva, originally reported by Portuguese authorities to have died while in rebel custody, refused to comment on her ordeal and left for home with waiting relatives.

The Portuguese were among 57 foreigners released by the rebel Mozambican National Resistance, also known as RENAMO, a week ago at Mozambique’s border with Malawi.

A second group of eight foreigners was released Monday and flown to Maputo Tuesday. They included three Portuguese Jesuit priests and a Portuguese, a Briton and a West German working on a European Common Market aid project in Mozambique’s Tete province. The West German’s wife and daughter also were freed.

Jose Dinis Andrade Pereira, 60, a farmer who has lived in the former Portuguese colony since 1960, said his 18 months in captivity ″put us all through a lot, a lot of suffering.″ Pereira, who was captured by RENAMO guerrillas during a raid on the town of Luabo, said all his livestock and equipment were destroyed.

″I spent over a year washing my clothes and bathing without soap, and we’ve eaten a lot of rotten fish and meat,″ he said. ″I don’t know what I’m going to do now, but I’m certainly not going back.″

Malawi officials last week blocked the former captives’ plans to travel to their own countries and forced the group to board a flight for Maputo, where they were questioned by Mozambican security officials on the whereabouts of RENAMO bases and supply lines before being permitted to leave for Lisbon.

Portugal has lodged a formal diplomatic protest with Malawi, while British authorities have protested to Mozambique over the two groups’ transit to Maputo following their release by RENAMO.

Officials in Malawi and Mozambique have said the arrangement was in keeping with a bilateral security accord between their two countries.

The eight members of the second group were reported Wednesday to be still in Maputo.

RENAMO has fought a sporadic bush war in hopes of bringing down the Marxist FRELIMO party government of Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano since 1977, two years after the country achieved independence from Portugal.

RENAMO has issued statements saying the foreigners it captures are ″not prisoners or hostages,″ but are taken ″to protect them from possible assasination by government troops.″