Africa

Mozambique attacks: Thousands of people fleeing besieged Palma town by boat


  • Thousands of survivors of the jihadist attacks in
    Mozambique’s Palma have fled to Pemba by boat.
  • International aid agency sources said between 6 000
    and 10 000 people are waiting to be evacuated to safety.
  • Dozens were killed in the attack, including seven
    people caught in an ambush during an evacuation operation.

Pemba – Thousands of survivors of coordinated
jihadist attacks in northern Mozambique’s Palma town were arriving on boats in
the provincial capital Pemba on Monday, according to sources in the city.

International aid agency sources said between 6 000
and 10 000 people are waiting to be evacuated to safety following the raid on
Palma that began last Wednesday.

Extremist militants raided Palma, a town of around
75 000 people in the province of Cabo Delgado that is home to a multibillion-dollar
gas project being built by France’s Total and other energy companies.

The government said dozens were killed in the attack,
including seven people caught in an ambush during an operation to evacuate them
from a hotel where they had sought refuge.

READ | ‘It’s just devastating, body numbing, mind numbing’ – SA mom mourns son killed in Mozambique

A South African is among those killed, his family
said.

The attack is the closest yet to the major gas
project since an Islamist insurgency broke out across Mozambique’s north in
October 2017.

The attack forced expatriate workers and locals to
seek refuge temporarily at a heavily guarded gas plant located on the Afungi
peninsula – 10km from Palma, on the Indian Ocean coast south of the Tanzanian
border.

Operations are under way to move them to Pemba,
around 250km south of Palma.

Emergency talks

Sea Star, a large passenger vessel, arrived in
Pemba on Sunday with around 1 400 people, mostly workers including Total
employees.

Another ship arrived in Pemba on Sunday afternoon
and was released on Monday morning, according to an official from an
international aid agency operating in the city.

“Authorities indicate that there will be a
boat that will arrive during the day,” the source told AFP.

Thousands of other people were still stuck at
Afungi, with some expected to have arrived in smaller boats overnight Sunday
and early Monday.

Police and military have cordoned off the zone,
hampering access to the area where the boats were landing.

UN agencies were due to hold emergency talks in
Pemba to coordinate the evacuation and humanitarian aid for the new arrivals.

The defence ministry said late on Sunday that the
security forces have “reinforced their operational strategy to contain the
criminal attacks of terrorists and restore normality in Palma, having carried
out operational actions focused primarily on the rescue of hundreds of citizens
in the last three days”.

The provincial capital Pemba is already packed with
hundreds of thousands of other people displaced by the Islamist insurgency,
which has uprooted nearly 700 000 people from their homes across the vast
province.

‘Shot while fleeing’

The armed attackers fired on civilians in their
homes and on the streets “as they tried to flee for their lives”,
according to Human Rights Watch.

The violent, calculated raid broke a three-month
hiatus in Islamist attacks widely attributed to counter-insurgency tactics and
the rainy season from January through March.

ALSO READ | Mozambique: Police, military cordon off Palma as thousands await evacuation

Although the extremist fighters launched their
campaign in 2017, experts say they had begun mobilising a decade earlier as
disgruntled youths starting to practise a different type of Islam, drinking
alcohol and entering mosques dressed in shorts and shoes.

The violence has now taken root and claimed at
least 2 600 lives, half of them civilians, according to the US-based
data-collecting agency Armed Conflict Location and Event Data (ACLED).

“We are extremely concerned about the impact
that this new outbreak of violence is having on already very vulnerable people
who have been affected by years of conflict,” said medical charity MSF.



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