Dozens of people were killed by Islamist insurgents in their assault on Palma, Mozambique close to Total’s liquefied natural gas construction site, according to the country's Ministry of Defence.
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“Last Wednesday, a group of terrorists sneaked into... Palma and launched actions that resulted in the cowardly murder of dozens of defenceless people,” ministry spokesman Omar Saranga said on Sunday evening in the capital Maputo.
The spokesman's comments appear to refer to reports that the insurgents had gained access to Palma by pretending to be locals or in uniform.
Security sources cited by The Guardian newspaper in London said insurgents had infiltrated the area around the town before that attack, hiding weaponry in caches. Many were disguised as community members with some wearing army or police uniforms.
The ministry had refrained from commenting on the Palma assault since originally confirming the attack on Thursday.
Yesterday, the ministry, in a statement, said seven people died when a rescue convoy was ambushed when trying to evacuate people from Amarula Hotel in Palma.
The spokesman declined to take questions, leaving observers in the dark as to what is exactly happening on the ground in Palma.
One South Africa national died in the ambush, according to Sky News, citing the deceased’s mother, while a British national, reportedly working for Dubai-based RA International, has also died.
In a statement issued on Monday, RA — which provides remote site services — did not address the reported death of one of its employees.
Chief executive Soraya Narfeldt said security concerns, compounded by the impacts of Covid-19 and extreme weather, have led to "the suspension of our contract to build and operate an 1800-person camp, where an extension of our initial two-year tenancy contract is under negotiation".
"Given the escalation in hostilities in the area in recent days, the directors of the company now expect there will be further delays in the (Mozambique LNG) project that are likely to impact on the overall financial performance of (RA) in the current financial year," suggesting revenues would fall by up to $10 million.
Despite most international media focusing on expatriates, it is clear that locals — numbering some 60,000, many of whom fled to the supposed safety of Palma after their villages elsewhere in the province were attacked — bore the brunt of the assault.
Human Rights Watch reported late last week that bodies — many beheaded — littered the streets of the settlement.
Saranga said security forces had prioritised “the rescue of hundreds of citizens, nationals and foreigners” with many evacuated by sea to Pemba, the state capital of Cabo Delgado.
Portuguese news agency Lusa cited a Total source as saying that 1300 people evacuated from Palma will be flown to Maputo.
As a result of the Palma attacks, Total has stopped construction work on the LNG plant at the nearby Afungi site.
The US has condemned the attacks and stressed it is on hand to help the Mozambican authorities.
“The US strongly condemns the terrorist attacks in northern Mozambique. We are deeply concerned by the increasing violence against civilians, who have suffered tremendously from the terrorists’ brutal and indiscriminate tactics.
"The US remains committed to working with the government of Mozambique to counter terrorism and violent extremism and ensure security and prosperity for all its citizens and residents.
"Our thoughts are with the people of Mozambique as they confront this crisis."
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