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Convoy of fleeing civilians ambushed in besieged Mozambique town

AFRICA
By Reuters | March 27th 2021
The Mozambique government has confirmed the attack and said soldiers had launched an offensive to repel the fighters from the town, the hub of the giant gas project. [Courtesy]

Suspected Islamist insurgents attacked a convoy of fleeing civilians, including foreign workers, as fighting continued on Friday in a northern Mozambique town that is near a number of gas projects, security and diplomatic sources said.

At least one person was killed and a number injured, according to the three sources and three organizations with employees inside a hotel where people have been taking refuge in the town of Palma.

Reuters could not independently verify the accounts.

Officials at Mozambique’s foreign ministry, defence ministry and provincial government did not immediately respond to calls or had their phones switched off on Saturday. The national police said they were evaluating the situation without providing further details.

Mozambique’s government had said that security forces were working to restore order in Palma, which is adjacent to gas projects worth $60 billion led by oil majors including Total, after it came under a three-pronged attack on Wednesday.

Nearly 200 people had been sheltering in the Amarula Palma hotel during the attack, according to three diplomats and one of the organisations with people inside.

They included a Spanish resident and other foreigners who locked themselves in a protected room in the hotel, a Spanish diplomatic source told Reuters. Spain’s foreign office did not immediately comment.

Rescue efforts had been underway with at least 20 people flown to safety in helicopters before the ambush, said Lional Dyck, who runs Dyck Advisory Group, a South African private security company that works with Mozambique’s government.

On Friday afternoon, some people attempted to escape in a convoy of vehicles but were ambushed just outside the hotel, according to Dyck, two diplomats and the organizations with people inside.

Dyck said his helicopters evacuated more than 20 people on Saturday.

Some still missing

It was not immediately clear how many people, if any, remained in the hotel and how many were missing.

Cindy Cooke, a South African whose 21-year-old stepson Francois van Niekerk is in Palma, was frantically trying to get information.

His family had not heard from him since the attack started on Wednesday, though rescuers had been to his location on Saturday and he was not there, she said.

“It’s scary. Being there is no joke. They (the insurgents) are ruthless, just ruthless,” she said.

Portugal’s foreign ministry said one of its nationals had been injured in the attack on Palma but did not specify the circumstances. The person had since been rescued, and its embassy in Maputo was working to identify other Portuguese nationals who needed support, the ministry said in an email.

Contacted via Facebook on Saturday, the hotel said it could not give any information.

The province of Cabo Delgado, where Palma is located, has been the target of a simmering Islamist insurgency since 2017.

Wednesday’s attack on Palma, a logistics hub and used as a base for multiple international firms looking to cash in on one of the biggest gas finds in a decade, came just hours after Total announced the resumption of works at its site after halting them due to security issues.

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