The Southern African Development Community (SADC) has rubber-stamped a plan to send troops to Mozambique to help quell an Islamist insurgency that has left almost 3000 dead, created 800,000 refugees and derailed TotalEnergies’ huge Mozambique LNG development.
In a communique issued on Wednesday after a meeting in Maputo, the 16-member SADC approved the deployment of troops to Cabo Delgado province in northern Mozambique.
The brief statement said the organisation had “approved the mandate for the SADC standby force mission to Mozambique to be deployed in support of Mozambique to combat terrorism and acts of violent extremism in Cabo Delgado”.
While no further details were revealed, the decision brings the curtain down on months of debate about the pros and cons of deploying troops in Mozambique, which has been reluctant to accept direct foreign intervention on its soil.
The SADC also urged its member states to work with humanitarian agencies to “continue providing support to the population affected by the terrorist attacks in Cabo Delgado, including the internally displaced persons".
Close to the construction site of the TotalEnergies liquefied natural gas project, the situation in Palma — which was attacked by insurgents on 24 March — is reported to be tense, with fears growing that civilians unable to flee the coastal town and surrounding villages will be at the beck and call of the insurgents.
Conflict observer group Cabo Ligado, which closely monitors unrest in Cabo Delgado province, said on Wednesday: “As the number of civilians in the Palma area dwindles, those who remain will become more vulnerable to both state and insurgent coercion.
"Without a concerted evacuation effort, there is a risk that at a certain point those remaining in Quitunda, lower Palma, and Maganja will be compelled to join the insurgency as a survival strategy.”
Cabo Ligado reported how a group of displaced people who arrived in Pemba on 20 June after escaping Palma described a meeting that insurgents held with civilians in lower Palma on 16 June.
At the meeting, the civilians were told that the insurgents “are more important figures” in their lives than Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi because they can “physically reach the civilians at any time”.
Cabo Ligado reported that government troops are looting properties in southern Palma and cannot effectively protect civilians.
Meanwhile, the family of an Indian national kidnapped by insurgents from Palma has appealed to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to intervene in the hostage situation.
According to The Tribune newspaper, Vinod Beniwal, from the city of Panipat in Haryana state, was abducted along with other foreigners in the attack on the town on 24 March.
The insurgents have demanded a $1 million ransom from his employer, which is willing to pay but has been prevented from doing so by the Mozambican government.