Mozambique's armed forces have killed two Tanzanian leaders of the Islamist insurgency in gas-rich Cabo Delgado province, according to Defence Minister Jaime Neto.
The news emerged just days after President Filipe Nyusi extended a state of emergency to address the Covid-19 pandemic to 29 June and visited Cabo Delgado himself.
Mozambique's Defence & Security Forces (FDS) regained control of the town of Macomia in the province on Sunday, three days after Islamists attacked the conurbation.
“Two of the group’s main leaders were shot in the counter-offensive,” Neto told state television. "“They probably did not expect our forces to be so well organised.”
The defence minister said 78 insurgents died in fighting and the two leaders killed were Tanzanian nationals, one of whom is claimed to have led the Islamists' first ever attack — on Mocimboa da Praia — in October 2017.
He did not details how many civilian or armed force members had died.
The alleged leaders go by the monikers of "Ndjoroje"and "Ambasse".
Speaking from Cabo Delgado on Saturday, Nyusi hinted that two leaders of the insurgency had been killed in Macomia and said the counter-offensive was "very productive".
According to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project — which monitors conflict situations globally — the 30-month insurgency has resulted in the death of more than 1000 civilians.
This year, in particular, the insurgents have gained confidence and kudos from many successful attacks on Cabo Delgado towns, with strong suggestions that Islamic State could be behind some of these armed groups.
Mozambique's Prime Minister Carlos Agostinhos do Rosario said late last week that it is crucial for the government to secure peace, maintain territorial integrity, guarantee order and socio-economic development in the country.
He stressed that “in the context of preserving territorial integrity, we want — here and now — to reaffirm that one of our main priorities is to restore public order and tranquility in Cabo Delgado Province, where terrorist actions are taking place, as well as in the central part of the country, where attacks by the self-proclaimed Renamo Military Junta occur.”
Rosario said the government aimed to equip its forces to operate effectively, but also highlighted efforts to generate jobs and income, especially for women and young people”.
State of emergency extended
Nyusi on Sunday announced the second extension of the state of emergency in the country designed to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
As for extending the state of emergency, the president said it was justified because of a recent increase in the numbers of infected people and the spread of Covid-19 to all the nation's provinces
As of 31 May, the country had 254 registered Covid-19 cases and two deaths.
At least 145 of the cases are in Cabo Degado where the Afungi liquefied natural gas construction site near Palma has been a major source of infection.
The country has been in a state of emergency since 1 April.