Islamist insurgents have attacked Palma village in Mozambique close to Total’s Afungi liquefied natural gas complex, just hours after the French supermajor agreed it was safe for workers to gradually return to the construction site.
These latest attacks throw into turmoil plans to restart serious construction activities on Total’s $20 billion Mozambique LNG project.
They also raise questions about security in the Palma area, which, after an attack by insurgents in December 2020, led to non-essential staff being evacuated from the Afungi site.
On Wednesday, Total agreed that security had improved enough in the area — including a 25-kilometre protective cordon around Afungi — to allow workers to start returning.
The attacks also came weeks after the US designated ISIS-Mozambique as a terrorist organisation and agreed to deploy its elite forces to train Mozambique’s military.
ACLED security analyst Jasmine Opperman predicted that increased US involvement in Mozambique will likely escalate instability in the province.
Speaking to CapeTalk radio station in South Africa, she said the designation “was irresponsible and gives Islamic State the exact status it wanted. It is going to invigorate the insurgents. It is not a problem solver”.
Portuguese news agency Lusa broke the Palma attack story on Wednesday, with Mozambique’s normally reticent Ministry of Defence confirming the situation the following day.
A ministry spokesman said: “The defence and security forces are pursuing the enemy’s movement and are working tirelessly to restore security and order with the greatest speed.”
“The defence and security forces will do everything to ensure the security and well-being of the populations against the inhumane acts perpetrated by terrorists while continuing to ensure the protection of economic projects (and) safeguarding human rights,” he said.
Opperman tweeted that expatriate workers had been given a deadline of 4pm (GMT) on Thursday to be evacuated by sea from Palma, ahead of a major offensive by Mozambique’s military.
Total had not responded to requests for comment by Upstream before publication.
Lusa reported that workers of different nationalities linked to activities at the LNG site fled into the bush along with most residents after armed groups attacked the district headquarters, according to witnesses.
Citing local sources, the news agency said the Afungi site itself was not directly impacted.
The Palma attack came at the end of the rainy season, a time when it is more difficult to mount assaults.
The Defence Ministry said the assault began at 4.15pm local time when “terrorists attacked the village of Palma (from) three directions: the Pundanhar — Manguna crossroads, the Nhica do Rovuma road and the airfield”.
Sources cited by AFP news agency said: “The militants are using heavy, new weapons that we have never seen before.”
The insurgency, which began in October 2017, has so far claimed 2600 lives, half of them civilians, while more than 670 000 people are refugees.
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