ISIS claimed responsibility on Monday (29) for attacks in northern Mozambique that resulted in the capture of Palma, leaving dozens dead and at least 100 missing, as residents try to flee the region.
The city of the province of Cabo Delgado, a region which has experienced intense conflict for more than three years, was seized by insurgents on Saturday (27). The government confirmed on Sunday (28) that dozens were dead, including seven on the official convoy which was ambushed in an attempt to leave the region.
As an official directly involved in official efforts to retake Palma, reported to Reuters news agency, clashes followed on Monday.
ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks through its news agency, Amaq, claiming it had taken control of the city after days of clashes with security forces. The group claims to have killed at least 55 people, including soldiers, in addition to destroying and taking over buildings, including factories and banks.
At least one South African was among the dead, according to Reuters. British newspaper The Times reported that a British citizen had died. The number of victims is however still uncertain.
According to sources reported to the AFP news agency, including members of the NGO Human Rights Watch, a large part of the municipality, which has a population of 75,000, was destroyed and corpses were in the streets on Saturday. .
On Monday, Palma looked like a ghost town, as thousands tried to flee the scene. The city is close to billionaire gas extraction megaprojects, including that of the French group Total, which again suspended operations after the actions.
Between 6,000 and 10,000 people were accommodated in the ultra-protected complex of the European multinational or were trying to access it, according to a person involved in evacuation operations heard by the AFP press agency.
A ferry left on Saturday with around 1,400 workers and residents of Palma for Pemba, capital of the province of Cabo Delgado, 240 km away.
Numerous canoes and traditional boats, laden with civilians, continued to reach the city. Police and the army were on the main beach of Paquitequete in Pemba on Sunday, preventing journalists from entering, an AFP photographer said.
At the port of the capital, relatives of the missing were waiting for news. “I have not had contact with my family since Wednesday, my wife, my children, my mother, my brothers,” Patricio Amade, a resident of Pemba, told the Portuguese news agency Lusa.
Lusa also reported that hundreds of people who fled Palma reached the border with Tanzania after spending days walking through the bush to reach a safe place. Police in the neighboring country, however, told Reuters they had so far not seen people from Mozambique attempting to enter its territory.
Security sources heard by Reuters said government-hired helicopters were also rescuing people.
According to Martin Ewi of the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria, more than 100 people have yet to be located. Around 12 trucks loaded with civilians fleeing a hotel in Palma have been missing since Friday (26). “Several people were probably killed trying to escape from the Amarula Hotel when their convoy was attacked,” Human Rights Watch regional director Dewa Mavhinga told AFP.
Since October 2017, al-Shabaab extremists, who have sworn allegiance to the Islamic State, have looted villages and towns in various provinces, causing the exodus of nearly 700,000 people, according to the UN .
The conflict in Cabo Delgado spans the northern coast of Mozambique, from Pemba to Palma, on the border with Tanzania. According to David Matsinhe, Amnesty International’s researcher for Mozambique and Angola, the insurgents are young, mostly male, born in the predominantly Muslim province of 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 gas 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 local 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, the main reason for a war is the economy. ”The mega gas extraction project carried out by the French company Total, for example, is valued at 20 billion dollars (115.3 billion real in the quotation of this second).
Before the Palma attacks, the clashes totaled 2,658 dead, including 1,341 civilians, according to the latest data from the Armed Conflict Location and Events Data Project – which does not include actions from last week.
Amnesty International, in a report released earlier this month, says the Mozambican government is also an actor in violence against residents of the region. After the document was published, Reuters sent requests for comment to the government, which did not respond.
According to the survey, there is also the performance of a private military company, the Dyck Advisory Group, from South Africa, hired by the government, which leaves the population of Cabo Delgado trapped in a triangle of violence. .
Added to the violence and trauma are the precarious conditions facing 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.
The clash began to gain international significance last year, in part because of the denunciations made by the Brazilian bishop.
The United States, for example, which declared al-Shabaab a terrorist organization because of its connection with the Islamic State, announced on March 15 the training of Mozambican marines by the American 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.
After the recent attacks, the UN condemned these actions and offered “its support to the government of Mozambique in its efforts to protect civilians, restore stability and bring to justice those responsible for these heinous acts,” the spokesperson said. word of the organization, Stéphane Dujarric.