The senior foreign envoy of the European Union has warned that the Islamist insurgency in gas-rich northern Mozambique must be controlled before it threatens the rest of East Africa.
“We cannot allow East Africa to become (a haven) for international terrorist networks and the tight links they have with traffickers of human beings and piracy,” Portugal’s Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva told the European Parliament on Tuesday.
Offer of EU support
“This is in the interest of the EU; it is not merely an internal matter for Mozambique,” Silva told the Foreign Affairs Committee when presenting the overseas priorities of the Portuguese presidency of the EU Council.
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He stressed that the EU will “support the efforts of the Mozambican authorities in the fight against international terrorism and support them in coping with the very difficult situation today in the north, particularly in Cabo Delgado”.
Maputo reaches out
Silva spent two days in Maputo last week at the behest of the European Commission’s High Representative for Foreign Policy, Josep Borrell, to find out how best to offer Mozambique support.
His visit came after a letter was sent on 16 December to the EU by Mozambique’s government, appealing for help.
Silva said: “We decided to increase co-operation with Mozambique in areas where it already exists, such as development aid and humanitarian assistance (and) security.
"When it comes to security, we will train Mozambican military forces so they can give a better response to the insurgency and we will also provide equipment.”
He also hopes that “within the coming weeks, we’ll be able to define the political framework through which we can strengthen this co-operation".
Silva highlighted the importance of support being provided in the context of maintaining “strict respect for Mozambique’s sovereignty” and “strict respect” for the role that could also be played by the African Union and the Southern African Development Community.
Threat to LNG plans
Portugal’s foreign minister also stressed the importance of support being implemented “as soon as possible".
Silva's comments came amid increasing concerns that the insurgents could mobilise west into neighbouring Niassa province, which borders Malawi and Lake Malawi.
This week, Cabo Ligado, a conflict monitoring organisation that focuses on Mozambique, cited Joao Mosca, director of Mozambique’s Rural Environment Observatory as saying Niassa suffers from the same elevated poverty levels and extreme inequality that exist in Cabo Delgado, potentially making the province a fertile recruiting ground for the insurgency.
Cabo Delgado is home to a huge liquefied natural gas complex at Afungi that is being developed by Total and where ExxonMobil also plans build a second huge LNG plant.
However, work on Totals Mozambique LNG project ground to a halt this month due to the threat posed by insurgents.
Since it erupted in late 2017, the Islamist insurgency has displaced some 560,000 people so far, with more than 2000 deaths.