JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – France’s big energy company Total has pulled all of its staff from its Afungi natural gas site in northern Mozambique, two sources said on Friday, as clashes between fighters linked to the Islamic State and the military rage nearby.
The company, which last week canceled the planned $ 20 billion construction-to-development resumption due to the violence, declined to comment when contacted by Reuters.
The government says dozens of people have died since militants launched attacks in the coastal city of Palma last week, in an area near tens of billions of dollars worth of gas projects intended to transform the economy of Mozambique.
The two sources, who have first-hand knowledge of Total’s operations, said the company decided to withdraw its staff as the activists appeared to be closing in on the site. They declined to go into details.
Insurgents retook some Mozambican military positions near the Afungi site south of Palma on Friday and the situation was still very volatile, a separate security source told Reuters.
The World Food Program (WFP) said it was temporarily suspending evacuation flights from Palma for those affected by the violence, citing a worsening security situation. Flights carrying aid workers and food would continue, a spokeswoman added.
Mozambique’s defense ministry did not respond to a request for comment.
A Mozambican army spokesman was quoted by a local radio station as saying the Afungi site was out of reach of militants.
“He is protected… at no time has his integrity been at stake,” army spokesman Chongo Vidigal said, quoted by Radio Mozambique. The radio station added in its report released Thursday evening that the area around the Total project was being patrolled day and night to fend off any threats.
Reuters was unable to independently verify Palma’s accounts. Most communications were cut off after the attack began on March 24.
Aid groups believe the attack displaced tens of thousands of people, many of whom fled to safety in dense forest areas nearby or by boat.
ISIS-linked insurgents have been increasingly active in neighboring Cabo Delgado province since 2017, although it is not clear whether they have a unified goal or what they are specifically fighting for.
At least 9,150 people have fled to other districts of Cabo Delgado during the latest violence, and thousands more have been reportedly displaced in the district of Palma, the United Nations said on Friday.
“The new wave of displacement has uprooted many people who had fled their places of origin due to conflict in other parts of Cabo Delgado and sought refuge in Palma,” he said.
Total’s project is among energy developments worth a total of $ 60 billion that would revolutionize Mozambique’s $ 15 billion economy.