Jihadist rebels have been besieging the small coastal city of Palma in northeast Mozambique for days. According to the government, dozens of people have already been killed. “A group of terrorists” entered Palma and “cowardly murdered dozens of helpless people,” said government spokesman Omar Saranga on Sunday.
According to this, at least seven people were killed on Friday when they tried to escape from a hotel in the coastal city of Palma. Numerous other civilians had previously been killed in the fighting in the city. Thousands of people were on the run.
Corpses in the streets
The jihadists, who are said to belong to an Islamist group with links to the terrorist militia “Islamic State”, attacked the coastal city in the border region with Tanzania on Wednesday. After two days of fighting, they took control of the city of 75,000 on Friday evening. According to the human rights organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) eyewitnesses reported dead bodies in the streets of Palma. Residents fled after militias reportedly shot at people and residential buildings at random.
In the past three days, government security forces have sought to rescue hundreds of civilians, including locals and foreigners, the government spokesman said. Some people were temporarily brought to the heavily guarded site of a gas production project on the Afungi peninsula before they were finally brought to the provincial capital of Pemba, 250 kilometers away.
Evacuations to Pemba
The French oil giant Total and the US group ExxonMobil are building a billion-dollar project to develop liquefied natural gas on a site in the immediate vicinity of Palma. There were also foreign project workers among the evacuees. The French energy company Total has brought about 1,000 employees to safety. According to the company, the number of staff present has been reduced to an absolute minimum. The relaunch of the project planned at the beginning of the week was therefore suspended.
According to the police, a boat with around 1,400 people on board arrived in Pemba on Sunday, including employees from the gas plant and residents of Palma. More small boats were on their way to Pemba and were expected there on Monday morning, according to aid organizations. The Catholic aid organization Caritas confirmed that it was expecting the arrival of those in need. According to airport officials in Pemba, humanitarian aid flights have been suspended to make way for military action.
Palma is located in the gas-rich province of Cabo Delgado, which is mainly inhabited by Muslims. For three years there have been repeated attacks by radical Islamic gangs, in which, according to non-governmental organizations, at least 2,600 people were killed and 670,000 were forced to flee.