Insurgents capture key port in northern Mozambique

Insurgents have captured a key town in northern Mozambique.
Insurgents have captured a key town in northern Mozambique.
Image: Estacio Valoi

A key port in Cabo Delgado province — close to large natural gas projects in northern Mozambique — has been “captured” by insurgents, according to reports from the ground on Wednesday.

Witnesses said there had been heavy exchanges of gunfire between the insurgents — Islamist fighters, according to the BBC — and security forces.

The town of Mocimboa da Praia was reportedly captured at dawn by insurgents who have been active in the province since October 2017. The seizure of the port, a strategic point of access to the Indian Ocean, is the culmination of several incursions by insurgents that were previously thwarted by security forces.

Mocímboa da Praia has been systematically targeted for attack in a conflict that, for almost three years, has claimed more than 1,500 civilian and military lives, displaced about 250,000 people and destroyed infrastructure.

“We are suffering — we are unable to locate the other families. The bandits closed the village of Awasse. All the villages that still had people there were completely destroyed, they were all over,” said one source on the ground.

“The people who were still in the village spread out, fled on foot, others went to Nangade [a district in the province] and others boarded the boat for [the port town] Pemba. So far another friend of mine is on the boat, just sent me a message. After fleeing Mocímboa ... he is going to Pemba.

“On Monday when the bandits' attacks began to intensify, it was when many began to flee.”

Witnesses described how insurgents had in earlier attacks swept into villages, forcing people to flee.

“The bandits entered on the sixth in the morning. My late mother's sister died on the night of the fifth,” said one source. “The burial was done in the bush while they ran away ... In the house we are in there are a total of 15 children. The parents' whereabouts is unknown. The children were found along the way. A driver who was going to Montepuez gave them a lift. In the Nanchimele neighbourhood ... an uncle of ours was left, who was sick.”

Soldiers were killed during the fighting. “There were soldiers there, many died ... There were only six cars, trucks, full of soldiers. They couldn't even sleep ... at night the bandits entered,” said one source.

“There is even one who lived near the Mumo neighbourhood, who said that the day before yesterday he started running from Mumo to Diaca. Along the road they saw seven bodies of dead soldiers, in the middle of the road.”

The BBC described the attack on the port as a heavy blow for Mozambique’s security forces, which had helicopter support provided by a private security contractor based in SA.

Locals who fled to Rovuma said: “They attacked from Quissanga, which borders the Montepuez River. Now Quissanga, Meluco, Macomia to Mocímboa, all this area. In Quissanga they cleaned all the villages, in Macomia too, and in Mocímboa ...

“They cleaned everything, before yesterday they left no village.”

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