Defense and security forces spokesman Omar Saranga told reporters on Sunday that hundreds of others – locals and foreigners alike – were rescued from Palma, a logistics hub for international gas projects in Cabo province. Delgado.
“A group of terrorists snuck into… Palma and launched actions that resulted in the cowardly murder of dozens of defenseless people,” Saranga said.
The exact number of people injured and killed, or still missing, has remained uncertain, while most communications with Palma have been cut. The city of some 75,000 inhabitants was previously a safe haven for people fleeing growing insecurity and violence elsewhere in the province.
A rescue operation is underway in Palma, Cabo Delgado, after gunmen stormed the city on Wednesday, killing “dozens of people,” according to the defense ministry spokesman. He did not say whether any of the gunmen had been arrested or killed.@dewamavhinga@hrw pic.twitter.com/zmigPFxuQE
– Zenaida Machado (@zenaidamz) 28 mars 2021
‘In all directions’
The attackers struck Palma on Wednesday, in a seemingly coordinated attack from several directions. Human Rights Watch said the attackers indiscriminately shot civilians in their homes and on the streets. Witnesses described bodies in the streets, some beheaded.
Many residents rushed into the dense rainforest surrounding the city to escape the violence, according to reports from Mozambique. But a few hundred foreign workers from South Africa, Britain and France gathered in hotels that quickly became targets of rebel attacks.
About 200 foreign workers were at the Amarula Hotel. On Saturday, a group of them in 17 vehicles drove together to try to reach the beach, where they hoped to be rescued, but their convoy came under heavy fire, local reports said.
“The defense and security forces have recorded the loss of seven lives of a group of citizens who left the Amarula Hotel in a convoy that was ambushed by terrorists,” Saranga said.
“We understand that many civilians are fleeing insecurity and violence,” Laura Tomm-Bonde of the International Organization for Migration said earlier Sunday.
“Initial reports indicate that the civilian population has fled Palma in all directions, some as far as Tanzania, while others are moving south in Cabo Delgado to areas such as Nangade, Mueda and Pemba districts. ”
Some residents have fled to the peninsula, home to a multibillion-dollar gas project being built by French Total and other energy companies.
A boat that left Afungi on Saturday landed in the provincial capital of Pemba around noon, according to police patrolling the town’s port. Reports say there were “around 1,400” people on board. Among the evacuees were non-essential personnel from Total and Palma residents who had sought refuge at the gas plant.
Several other small boats filled with displaced people were on their way to Pemba and are expected to arrive overnight or Monday morning, aid agencies say. Pemba airport officials said humanitarian aid flights have been suspended to free up space for military operations.
Over the past three days, government forces have prioritized the “rescue of hundreds of citizens, nationals and foreigners,” Saranga said, without giving a breakdown of the numbers. He added that the security forces were seeking to “eliminate some pockets of resistance”.
The Battle of Palma highlights the military and humanitarian crisis in northern Mozambique, where a three-year armed campaign by dark armed groups has displaced an estimated 670,000 people, according to the United Nations. The escalating violence has claimed at least 2,600 lives, half of whom are civilians, according to the U.S. data collection agency Armed Conflict Location and Event Data (ACLED).
The fighters are known locally as al-Shabab, although they have no known connection with the Somali armed group of that name.
NJ Ayuk, member of the African Energy Chamber, said Mozambique needed “strong attention” and “needed support” from the international community as attacks became much more sophisticated and frequent in the world. over the past year.
“We are witnessing a well-coordinated insurgency. They are very well funded, and it is not a problem for Mozambique (to manage) alone, ”he told Al Jazeera of Maputo, the capital of Mozambique.
“Mozambique, as a country, has already struggled to [help] people are coming out of poverty, ”he said, adding that the army“ is not very strong to deal with some of these insurgencies, which are [employing] guerrilla tactics.
The United States said on Sunday it “continues to monitor the horrific situation in Palma”. Its embassy announced earlier this month that U.S. military personnel would spend two months training soldiers in Mozambique.
Total said on Saturday it was canceling a planned resumption of construction at its development following the attack and would reduce its workforce to “the bare minimum.” The company pulled the majority of its workforce in January due to security concerns.
Rights groups say Cabo Delgado fighters carried out summary executions, beheadings, raids on villages, looting and destruction of infrastructure, including schools and medical facilities. Government forces have also been implicated in serious human rights violations during operations in the province, including arbitrary arrests, torture, abuse of force against civilians and extrajudicial killings. .