Mozambique’s Defence & Security Forces (FDS) have “completely” retaken control of Palma, near Total’s Afungi liquefied natural gas construction site, having “cleansed” the town of Islamist insurgents, according to an FDS spokesman.

If the claim is true, it ends an 11-day reign of terror and brutality by militants who attacked Palma in Cabo Delgado province on 24 March, killing locals and foreigners alike, causing some at least 11,000 people to flee for their lives into the bush and beyond, and forcing Total to evacuate almost all workers from Afungi.

Upstream was told on 3 April that Total staff had been pulled out of Afungi entirely and that no workers were on site.

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A source familiar with the situation in northern Mozambique said the decision was taken because, at that time, security in the area was not improving, there were insurgents in close vicinity to the Afungi site and there was also a large influx of refugees to the Afungi area.

Another well-placed source confirmed this view, although adding that “a small core group” may remain at Afungi.

A Total spokesperson declined to comment.

Palma 'totally safe'

Commenting on the Palma situation, Brigadier Chongo Vidigal, spokesman for the Northern Operational Theatre, said on 4 April that Mozambique’s FDS had “completely” retaken Palma.

Speaking from Palma, he said the town has been “cleansed” and is “totally safe, with security restored".

Vidigal was cited by local media as saying that the next goal is to put in place security measures that will allow for the return of locals and prevent future infiltration of the town by insurgents.

Cabo Delgado Governor Valige Tauabo told journalists that “the enemy had been overthrown.”

There had been reports over the weekend, that insurgents had taken control of various vessels in Palma Bay, with unconfirmed suggestions they were trying to probe for a weak spot in Afungi's protected zone.

According to the latest estimate from the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), some 11,000 people were displaced by the Palma attacks with civilians have been arriving in Pemba, Nangade, Mueda and Montepuez by foot, road and boat since 24 March.

In addition, the UNHCR said thousands remained in the bush in the vicinity of Palma, but unable to move due to the threat posed by militants.

Humanitarian flights from Palma that helped evacuate hundreds of people have been suspended pending further clearance by Mozambique’s authorities, said the UN.

Some 670,000 have so far been displaced by the Cabo Delgado violence with the UN warning that the number of internally displaced person could surpass 1 million in June if the insurgency does not stop.