Surrounded since Wednesday (24), the city of Palma, a few kilometers from a huge gas complex in northern Mozambique, was taken on Saturday by extremists (27). According to sources from the AFP agency, including members of the NGO Human Rights Watch, a large part of the municipality of 75,000 inhabitants of the province of Cabo Delgado has been destroyed and corpses are in the streets.
Known as al-Shabaab, the Islamic militia responsible for the attack – unrelated to the terrorist organization of the same name in Somalia – had already taken another action on Wednesday, the same day the French group Total announced. resumption of work. the gas extraction refinery. With the actions this Saturday, the company has once again suspended operations in the region.
The conflicts forced the evacuation of some 200 people from a hotel, and some of the foreign workers staying there may have died in an ambush, although details of the action are unclear. The Mozambican government confirmed the attack and said security forces launched an offensive to expel extremists from the city, but since Thursday (25) there has been no official statement.
Since 2017, al-Shabaab extremists, who have sworn allegiance to the Islamic State, have looted villages and towns in different provinces, causing the exodus of 700,000 people, according to the UN.
In a conflict where attacks come from insurgents, government security forces and a private military company, the people of Cabo Delgado, in northern Mozambique, also see young people suffering the consequences.
A United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) document, released on Monday (22) and based on a visit to the country, reports cases of women and girls abducted, forced into marriage, and in some cases , raped or subjected to others. sexual violence.
The boys, in turn, are the targets of the insurgency, which sees them as possible soldiers. At UNHCR, 64-year-old Herculano, one of some 670,000 internally displaced people, recounted the destruction of homes and the torture of residents. “We have seen insurgents looking for children to recruit them. We fear for our children.”
He and his wife, Isabella, 50, left the village of Quissanga with their ten children and eight grandchildren. To escape, they ran for hours until they hid in dense vegetation, where they remained for nearly a week with limited access to water, without food or shelter, according to the UNHCR report.
Recruitment by insurgents is not, however, the only risk that children in Mozambique face. Earlier this month, the British NGO Save the Children denounced the beheading of young people up to 12 years old. The organization has collected testimonies from families who, in addition to being forced to leave their homes, have reported terrible scenes. In one case, Elsa (not her real name), 28, said her eldest son, 12, was captured and beheaded while trying to escape. She and her three other children managed to escape. The Mozambican says she couldn’t do anything lest they be killed.
In another testimony, Amelia (not her real name), 29, reported that one of her 11-year-old sons was killed by gunmen. In order to leave the conflict zone, she, her husband, and the other children spent five days eating green bananas and banana water before moving on.
Although not at the center of Amnesty International’s report released earlier this month, Save the Children’s complaint is in line with the organization’s study, the organization’s Mozambique researcher said. Angola, David Matsinhe. “There are several cases of children kidnapped and some killed,” he said. In addition to the murders, the researcher reports that the insurgents kidnapped children to make boys soldiers and girls “wives”.
The document reports the kidnapping of young people and girls up to seven years old by al-Shabaab. According to information communicated to Amnesty International, civilians who managed to return to the places of conflict found decapitated bodies, some adolescents, strewn in the streets and in open areas of the villages. A 52-year-old grandmother said that when she returned to the area where she lived a week after her escape, she witnessed what the faction had done. “The boys were beheaded and rotten.”
According to the report, further investigations are still needed to measure the scale of kidnappings and rapes committed by al-Shabaab, including cases of sexual violence and the recruitment of child soldiers. Gillian Triggs, UNHCR’s deputy high commissioner for protection, visited the region and called the situation a “humanitarian tragedy”.
The conflict in Cabo Delgado spans the northern coast of Mozambique, from Pemba to Palma, on the border with Tanzania. According to Matsinhe, the insurgents are young people, mostly men, born in the predominantly Muslim province in a predominantly Catholic country.
The head of Amnesty International explains that the insurgents are the result of a long period of political, economic and social exclusion. After centuries under Portuguese control, Mozambique gained independence in 1975. During those more than 45 years as a free state, however, the Cabo Delgado region has been ignored by the central government, the researcher says.
The local population had natural resources as the basis of their survival. For Matsinhe, the conflict arose when the central government discovered the existence of the reserves and began to exploit them without offering economic and social development to the inhabitants of the region,
The multinationals that have projects in Cabo Delgado, for their part, do not employ the region’s population, says the researcher, but Mozambicans from other provinces or foreigners.
For Brazilian bishop Dom Luiz Fernando Lisboa, who was stationed in Pemba and helped give voice to victims of the conflict, al-Shabaab’s association with the Islamic State is “religious cover for a war that is not religious, a war whose main reason is the economy. The mega gas extraction project led by the French company Total, for example, is valued at 20 billion dollars (113.6 billion reais).
The clashes have already killed 2,658 people, including 1,341 civilians, according to the latest data from the Armed Conflict Location and Events Data Project. For the investigation, the most in-depth first conducted by Amnesty International, 79 people were interviewed who had left the conflict region and were in camps for internally displaced persons in Pemba and Metuge.
The NGO also analyzed satellite images, photographs and ballistic information and interviewed analysts from international organizations, journalists, aid workers and local human rights observers, in addition to having a law firm. council who investigated social media content.
The document had to be done remotely, as entry into conflict zones is prohibited for journalists, international investigators and humanitarian organizations. “What they [governo] are you hiding What are you afraid of? Matsinhe asks. “We suspect they are doing a lot of things that we human rights observers might come to find out. There are denunciations of mass graves. “
Thus, for Amnesty International, the government of Mozambique is becoming another actor in the violence against the inhabitants of the region. “These government forces, which include the army and the police, carried out extrajudicial killings, committed acts of torture and mutilated the bodies of their victims,” the report said. After the document was released, Reuters asked for comment from the government, which did not respond.
The people of Cabo Delgado are caught in a triangle of violence, says Matsinhe, because there is still a private military company, the Dyck Advisory Group, from South Africa.
The NGO document indicates that, according to 53 witnesses, the group used heavy weapons in helicopters and threw grenades indiscriminately at crowds, without distinguishing between civilian and military targets. “These are violations of international human rights and humanitarian law,” explains the researcher.
This is why Amnesty International is calling for access to the region to be freed and for an impartial, independent and transparent investigation into what is happening in the region. Added to the violence and trauma are the precarious conditions facing the hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people.
In the towns of Niassa, Nampula and Pemba, these people are living without food and water, hampering one of the basic measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus: washing their hands.
With the overcrowding in the reception camps, it is also difficult to maintain any sort of social distancing. So, in addition to Covid-19, there is also an increase in malaria cases. Socially, many children have not been to school for more than three years when the conflict erupted.
To deal with the confrontation, which started to gain international importance last year, in part because of the denunciations made by the Brazilian bishop, Matsinhe says the solution is to develop a program that invests in local infrastructure, rather than offering military aid.
The United States, for example, which has declared Al-Shabaab a terrorist organization due to its connection with the Islamic State, announced the training of Mozambican Marines by US special forces for two months. According to Washington’s representation in Maputo, the country will also provide medical assistance and communications equipment to help fight the insurgents.
“Our vision is that [a intervenção militar] it will not guarantee peace and security, and the war will only escalate, ”says Matsinhe, stressing that the region needs schools, health services, telecommunications and, in particular, job creation for the population of Cabo Delgado.