Mozambique government forces with mercenary air support attacked an insurgent base in Mocimboa da Praia district on Tuesday, forcing insurgents to head north towards the districts of Palma and Nangade.
According to one security analyst, Mozambique’s Forcas de Defesa e Segurança (FDS) recovered two armoured cars that had been captured by the insurgents over recent weeks, as well as a large cache of weapons, at the base in Marere, south of the town of Mocimboa da Praia early on Tuesday morning.
Peasants on the southern edge of Mocimboa da Praia town had been warned on Monday to return home rather than work in their fields due to an impending FDS operation by land and air, according to a source in the Milamba neighbourhood in the south of the town, who spoke to peasants who had been warned by other peasants who reported seeing a helicopter in the sky over the area.
As the displaced insurgents moved northward from Marere, they caused panic in Mocimboa da Praia where locals feared they were again under attack. A group of armed men were seen in the neighbourhood of Buji, on the west of the town, heading towards town and through the mainly Christian neighbourhood of 30 de Junho.
The insurgents briefly set up roadblocks on the road at Buji, according to two sources – but no attack on the town materialised. Nevertheless, an atmosphere of tension persisted into the evening, with FDS intensifying patrols around the town, and sources in the town reported hearing regular gunfire until around 8pm.
The insurgents apparently headed north out of the town, towards the neighbouring districts of Nangade to the west, and Palma to the north – home to the Rovuma Basin LNG projects led by Total and ExxonMobil.
On hearing that the insurgents were heading their way, FDS in Palma moved to block the road coming from Mocimboa da Praia, just before the turn off along the old road to Afungi, the security consultant said.
The consultant cited other reports indicating that some insurgents were heading west into Nangade. Wednesday’s edition of the Cabo Ligado weekly analysis of the conflict in Cabo Delgado noted that attacks in Mocímboa da Praia have sometimes been followed by attacks in Nangade, in an apparent effort to spread out government forces.
The insurgents’ base at Narere was likely to have been instrumental in allowing them to control the southern coastal part of Mocimboa da Praia over recent weeks.
Insurgents in the area had warned people not to travel through or attempt to work in an area south of the town of Mocimboa da Praia, including the coastal village of Ulo where two people were killed after their fishing boat was beached there at low tide, a local source told Zitamar.
The no-go area covers the Ulo, Nanquidunga, and Luchete and may stretch as far south as the Messalo River. To avoid being intercepted by the insurgents, people could only cross the area by sea – at a safe distance from the shore – or loop inland out of reach of the insurgent groups.
Vital sections of road are also currently under insurgent control, making them impassable for civilian traffic which has to use circuitous routes to travel north in the province.
The section of the main north-south road between Chitunda and Awasse, in Mocímboa da Praia district, is one example. To reach Mocímboa da Praia from the south people had to either travel by sea, or to go inland to Mueda, diverting westwards at Xitaxi or Chitunda, before heading back east from Mueda to Mocímboa, passing through Awasse.
Last month’s attack on Macomia, however, which also lies on the main north-south road, means that it is now widely seen as too perilous even to drive as far as Xitaxi, according to drivers using the route. Instead, travellers from Pemba go first to Montepuez, then up to Mueda, before heading east to Mocímboa da Praia — greatly increasing the cost of the trip. A seat on a minibus from Pemba to Montepuez is now MZN 250 ($3.60), and from Montepuez to Mocímboa da Praia, MZN 700 ($10).
By sea, the connection between Pemba and Mocímboa da Praia used to cost MZN 500, but since the attack on Mocímboa town in March, that has risen to MZN 1,500.
This article was produced by Zitamar and Mediafax under the Cabo Ligado project, in collaboration with ACLED. The contents of the article are the sole responsibility of Zitamar News.