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Insurgents clearing Palma to take control like Mocímboa da Praia

Insurgents appear to be systematically burning houses in Palma in preparation for an occupation of the town — causing remaining residents to flee

The town of Palma has suffered repeated attacks over the past week, with insurgents setting fire to houses and warning people to leave the town, echoing what they did while occupying the town of Mocímboa da Praia last year, several sources have told Zitamar News.

Palma town is now practically deserted, but gunfire and shelling has been heard every night since Sunday. The local population is on the run and some people are fleeing to Tanzania, according to a source in Palma who, with others, managed to escape to the village of Quitunda on the edge of the abandoned Mozambique LNG project.

Once in Tanzania, the source said, refugees are taken by the local authorities on the back of open trucks — often in heavy rain — to the Negomano border post, near Mueda, where they are left to their fate. Others hiding in the woods around Palma and at the Quitunda primary school are also suffering without protection from the heavy rains that recently fell in northern Cabo Delgado.

Many people are fleeing inland to Nangade, including more than 60 who arrived in that village on Monday, a resident of Nangade told Zitamar. Palma refugees have consistently been arriving in Nangade, 100km from Palma, since Palma was first attacked on 24 March — many of them making the trip on foot.

In the early hours of Tuesday, more people arrived in the village of Quitunda after unknown armed men burned many houses in the Malamba area, Incularino neighborhood, another source in Palma and a refugee in Pemba told Zitamar.

One source said local reports have blamed the house burnings on insurgents coming from the forests of Pundanhar, inland from Palma in search of food.

The process of burning houses is done in an organized manner — picking up in the morning where they left off the day before, said the same source, adding that reports of dead and kidnapped people are also common in Palma.

The message left by the insurgents, the source continued, is that the population must vacate the town immediately and leave it under the control of the insurgents, which is how they took control of the town of Mocímboa da Praia last August.

Members of the Defense and Security Forces (FDS) were also caught burning houses this week by a group of former combatants, according to a report by Pinnacle News on 28 April, which cited local sources. Pinnacle News says the FDS elements were reported to their superiors, with a hearing set for this Monday.

One person who fled to Pemba in recent days told Zitamar that flames could be seen in Palma town on Tuesday evening. The source told Zitamar that around 5pm, some people who decided to leave the village by boat were able to view several burning houses from the high seas, including a mosque that is located in the lower town, near the beach.

More than 70 people fled overland to the town of Nangade after this week’s attacks, while an unknown number emerged in the lowlands of Nangade Lake, having followed the course of the Mtumbue River.

The massive influx of unknown people in the village of Nangade is creating fear and mistrust in the town, with some locals now moving to the town of Mueda, where the defense and security forces are only allowing people to move around between 7am and 12 noon, according to a source resident in Nangade. In Nangade, as in Quitunda, displaced people are experiencing severe hunger due to lack of food assistance, he said.

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.