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Macomia counts cost of fighting as refugees head to Pemba

Macomia district was home to more than 29,000 displaced people before the attack happened, but hundreds have now fled to the provincial capital of Pemba

Six children were admitted to hospital in Pemba this week after being hit by shrapnel following helicopter raids at Macomia in response to the insurgents who invaded the district village on Thursday of last week.

The helicopter crew, believed to be operating on behalf of South African security company Dyck Advisory Group (DAG), requested an ambulance to transport the victims after they realised civilians had been hit, according to a source who visited the victims in hospital.

Multiple sources have reported bombing of Macomia, but there is confusion over this issue as DAG’s helicopters are not equipped with rocket pods. The Mozambique Air Force’s Mi-24 Hind helicopter gunship has these pods, according to analyst Johann Smith, but it is unclear whether that aircraft is currently operational.

There are likely to be other victims because the children were not alone, and the helicopter gunner was launching devices in an uncontrolled manner, several sources in the town of Macomia told Zitamar News.

A local shopkeeper said he had to ditch his motorcycle and flee after seeing two vehicles being hit by bullets fired from the helicopter on Thursday. Other civilians trying to cross the woods into the village of Nacate were also hit, the man said.

The helicopters were coming from Pemba City to reinforce the Defence and Security Forces on the ground trying to counteract the insurgents, on 28-30 May. Their effectiveness was hampered by the need to refuel in Pemba, 100km away — and by delays at Pemba Airport regarding payment for the fuel, according to Smith.

Chai also attacked

The village of Chai, further north in Macomia district, was attacked on the same day as Macomia town. A source linked to the local government told Zitamar that insurgents stayed four days in the village, with no response from the government forces stationed there who fled from the attack, with some seen moving through Muatide district towards the garrison town of Mueda.

On returning to the village on Tuesday, 2 June, residents found six dead bodies, all apparently having been shot dead. Another nearby village, Litamanda, was also attacked.

Refugees flee to Pemba

Macomia district was home to more than 29,000 displaced people from in and outside the district before the attack happened, according to data from the International Organisation of Migration (IOM). But following last week’s fighting, hundreds have fled to the provincial capital of Pemba, and elsewhere.

One group of 35 children and young people from Macomia have been accommodated in a private children's school in Pemba, after having fled the fighting in their home town.

Members of the group told Zitamar they left Macomia on Thursday, crossing through forest for two days until they reached the village of Mitambo, in the neighbouring district of Meluco. From there they walked to the village of Moja, where they were picked up and transported to Pemba.

Although the insurgents left Macomia on Saturday, 12 minibuses left the town on Monday for Pemba, full of internally displaced people looking for safety. Some had no luggage, having lost all possessions during the fires and looting of their homes by insurgents.

Among them were members of the local government, including the permanent secretary of the district, who hid during the attack in Licangano village, 7 km from Macomia town centre, according to a resident of Xinave, a settlement on the route between Macomia and Licangano.

By Wednesday, locals in the Nanga neighbourhood of Macomia had counted 19 dead, including some killed by insurgents, and at least four children who died of hunger or thirst while hiding outside the town. A source from Nanga said the insurgents said they were only interested in fighting “pigs”, by which they meant members of Mozambique’s security and defence forces — but they also killed locals whom they found drunk when they arrived in the town.

There are also records of four wounded by gunfire, whether from helicopters or fighting on the ground: three are in a serious condition in the provincial hospital in Pemba.

According to the Cabo Ligado summary of the attack:

During their time in control of Macomia town, insurgents reportedly prayed at a local mosque, hoisted the ISIS flag in the town center, and looted food and medical supplies. They then burned down certain homes, government buildings, shops, and other sites associated with state governance and religious authority. Notable targets include the local Movitel and Vodacom mobile phone stalls, the central market, the Macomia jail, town hall, health center, primary and technical schools, and police station, the local World Food Programme office, the agricultural extension office, and the mosque of sheikh Sujai Aifa. The burning of the mosque is particularly notable since as recently as last September the government had named Aifa as a financier for the insurgency (Carta de Mocambique, 26 September 2019). To cap it off, insurgents also destroyed a power facility on the outskirts of town, plunging surrounding areas into darkness on the night of 28 May.

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.