NICOEDALA, Mozambique -- Tanzanian army units are fighting alongside Mozambican troops in their battle against South African-backed rebels in northern Mozambique, witnesses said Sunday.
Independent sources in Nicoedala, a key town in Zambesia province, 800 miles northeast of the Mozambican capital city of Maputo, told United Press International that large numbers of Tanzanians were deployed recently in the province.
It was the first direct confirmation of diplomatic rumors circulating in East Africa that Tanzania has finally decided to throw its weight behind the embattled socialist government in Maputo.
The deployment follows a meeting recently between Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano and Tanzanian President Ali Hassan Mwinyi in Dar es Salaam.
The witnesses in Nicoedala said they had seen the Tanzanians arrive at the Zambesia provincial capital of Quelimane over the last few weeks aboard Soviet-built Antonov transport planes.
It was not known whether the planes were from the Tanzanian air force or were Soviet-piloted aircraft from Maputo.
The Mozambican air force is tiny and has few large military transport planes of its own. Maputo relies almost exclusively on Russian planes to supply its army fighting the rebels in the remote northern bush.
The sources said several hundred Tanzanian troops were deployed in the bush surrounding the town, which lies between rebel-controlled areas to the northwest along the Malawi border and the key capital of Quelimane.
Nicoedala has been attacked three times in recent months by rebels of the Mozambique National Resistance, or MNR, also known as Renamo. The rebels are backed by South Africa.
If Nicoedala falls, the road to Quelimane, a key port for military supplies sent by sea from Maputo, would be open.
Between 10,000 and 15,000 Zimbabwean troops are already in Mozambique, where the civil war has been smoldering for 10 years. They are deployed almost exclusively in central Mozambique, guarding the vital Beira road and rail corridor from the Indian Ocean port to Zimbabwe.
Sources in Harare say Zimbabwe, which has pledged it will never tolerate a Renamo government in Maputo, stepped up its military aid to the flagging Mozambican war effort after Renamo guerrillas stormed south from their sanctuaries in Malawi last fall and pushed back poorly trained Mozambican soldiers.
Unlike Zimbabwe, which is fairly open about its intervention on behalf of its eastern neighbor, Tanzania has made no official announcement it has sent in its troops.