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Refugees return with hope to vote

Fernando Mauelele felt he was home at last when he cast his ballot in Mozambique's first multiparty election.

"My vote and the votes of others will seal the peace in my country," Mauelele said Saturday, the last day of voting in the three-day election.

He was one of more than 1-million Mozambicans who fled during the 15-year civil war, in which about 600,000 people were killed by fighting, famine and disease and Mozambique was reduced to one of the world's poorest countries.

Mozambican refugees have been returning in large numbers this year, hopeful that the election would cement a peace process that began two years ago when President Joaquim Chissano and rebel leader Afonso Dhlakama agreed to peace.

It could take at least a week to tally election results because of poor roads and communications. Chissano was favored to win the presidency, and his and Dhlakama's parties were expected to fill most of the 250 Parliament seats.

Elections officials said more than 80 percent of the 6.3-million registered voters had gone to the polls Thursday and Friday, the first two days of the U.N.-monitored election.

Mauelele returned from neighboring Swaziland in April and has settled on a small farm in Boane, just south of the capital, Maputo. He, his wife and three teenage sons have built a two-room shack of scrap wood covered by sacks once filled with maize and rice donated by U.N. agencies.

The delicate green leaves of his first crop of vegetables are pushing up through the rich soil. "I am happy to stay here where I have my own farm and the seeds are growing," he said, speaking in Matshua and Portuguese through an interpreter. "I think that we will live in peace from now on."

Mauelele, who fled in 1991, said his sister and her husband were killed by Dhlakama's fighters in 1987. But he said he had forgiven the guerrillas and believed reconciliation was crucial.

"I will be happy if the peace continues and Dhlakama and Chissano can cooperate and let the people work their farms and feed their children," Mauelele said.