Rebels leave beheaded bodies on the streets of Mozambique city

Rebels leave beheaded bodies on the streets of Mozambique city

JOHANNESBURG – Fierce fighting for control of the strategic city of Palma in northern Mozambique left beheaded bodies strewn in the streets on Monday, with heavily armed rebels fighting the army, police and private military equipment in several places.
Thousands of people are estimated to be missing in the city, which housed around 70,000 people before the attack began last Wednesday.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack on Monday, saying it was carried out by the province of the Islamic State of Central Africa, according to extremist monitoring group SITE.

The rebels’ claim indicates that the insurgents now control the banks, government offices, factories and army barracks in Palma, and that more than 55 people, including Mozambican army soldiers, Christians and foreigners were killed. He did not provide further details on the deaths.

Earlier this month, the United States declared the Mozambique rebels a terrorist organization and announced that it had sent military specialists to help train the Mozambican military to fight them.

Palma is at the center of a multibillion-dollar investment by Total, the France-based oil and gas company, to extract liquefied natural gas from offshore sites in the Indian Ocean. It is estimated that the gas fields are among the largest in the world and that the investment by Total and others would be $ 20 billion, one of the largest in Africa.

The battle of Palma forced Total to evacuate its vast fortified site a few kilometers from the city.

Fighting spread across the city on Monday, according to Lionel Dyck, director of the Dyck Advisory Group, a private military company hired by Mozambican police to help fight the rebels.

“There is fighting in the streets, in the pockets of the whole city,” Dyck told The Associated Press. The Dyck Group owns several gunships in Palma that have been used to rescue trapped civilians and to fight rebels.

“My guys are up in the air and they’ve hired a bunch of small groups and they hired a pretty big group,” Dyck said. “They landed in the fight to pick up two injured policemen. … We also saved a lot of people who were trapped, 220 people at last count.

He said those rescued were taken to Total’s fortified site on the Afungi Peninsula, a southern African country, where chartered flights flew numerous flights south to Pemba, the capital of the province of Cabo Delgado.

The rebels are well armed with AK-47 automatic rifles, RPD and PKM machine guns and heavy mortars, Dyck said.

“This attack is not a surprise. We expected Palma to be hit by the time the rains have stopped and the fighting season has started, which is now, ”he said.

“They have prepared for this. They had enough time to line up their ducks. They have a cut in their ability. They are more aggressive. They use their mortars. He said many wore black uniforms.

“There have been a lot of beheadings. From day one our guys saw the truck drivers bring rations to Palma. Their bodies were near the trucks. They didn’t have the head.

Dyck said it would not be easy for the Mozambican government to regain control of Palma.

“They must have enough troops to sweep the city, go from house to house and cleanse every one of them. This is the most difficult war phase in the book, ”said Dyck. “It will be very difficult unless a competent force is put in place with good command and control to take over this city. It can be done. But it’s not going to be easy.

Without Palma’s control, Total’s operations are in jeopardy, analysts say.

The Battle of Palma is similar to how the rebels captured Mocimboa da Praia port in August. The rebels infiltrated men into the town to live among the residents, then launched a three-pronged attack. The fighting continued for more than a week until the rebels controlled the city center and then its port. The city, about 50 miles south of Palma, is still held by the rebels.

UN spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric condemned the violence in Palma, which he said killed dozens of people, “some of whom were trying to flee a hotel where they had taken refuge.”

He referred to people trapped at the Amarula hotel who tried to escape on Friday in a convoy of 17 vehicles. Only seven vehicles reached the beach, where seven people were killed. Some of the other vehicles escaped into the dense tropical jungle and were subsequently rescued.

“We continue to coordinate closely with authorities on the ground to provide assistance to those affected by violence,” said Dujarric.

The battle for Palma is expected to dramatically worsen the humanitarian crisis in Cabo Delgado province in northern Mozambique, where rebels launched violent attacks in 2017. The insurgents started out as a few gangs of disaffected young Muslims and unemployed. They are now probably in the thousands, experts say.

“The attack on Palma is a game-changer in that the rebels changed the narrative,” said an expert who returned from Palma earlier this month.

“This is not a group of disorganized young people. This is a trained and determined force that has captured and detained a city and is now fighting a battle for a very strategic center, ”said the expert, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity to visit Palma. “They questioned the whole investment in LNG (liquefied natural gas) that was supposed to bring major economic growth to Mozambique for many years to come.”

Known locally as al-Shabab, although they have no known affiliation with the Somali jihadist rebels of the same name, rebel violence in Mozambique, a nation of 30 million people, is responsible for the more than 2,600 people died and caused around 670,000 people to flee their homes.

“The attack on Palma has exacerbated a dire humanitarian situation,” said Jonathan Whittall, director of analysis for Doctors Without Borders, which works to help the displaced around Pemba, the provincial capital 160 km south of Palma.

“Across Cabo Delgado, the situation was already extremely worrying for people displaced by violence and for those in areas hard to reach for humanitarian aid,” said Whittall. “This attack on Palma has led to more displacement and will increase urgently needed needs.”

“For too long northern Mozambique has been a neglected humanitarian crisis,” said Whittall, adding that his organization is exploring ways to scale up its emergency response.

PA journalists Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations and Tom Bowker in Uzès, France contributed.


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