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Mozambique forces in disputed attack on insurgent base

Mozambican forces apparently attempted to take a major insurgent base in Cabo Delgado on Wednesday - but the success of the operation is far from certain

A major contingent of Mozambique’s defence and security forces is reported to have attacked what is said to be the biggest base of the insurgency in Cabo Delgado yesterday — although sources vary wildly on what the result of the attack was, with no official line yet from the government.

The first account of the incident appeared on the Notícias de Defesa website, claiming that 100 insurgents were killed by Mozambican forces who shelled the base, which lies 10km from the main road heading towards Macomia district, close to the village of Ntessa.

Notícias de Defesa, a website established last month, creates the impression of being an official government website for the Ministries of Defence and of the Interior, although both ministries have denied it has anything to do with them.

Artillery fire began at 06:30 and was followed up by an invasion of the base, which lasted from 14:10 until 19:40 on 1 July, the report said. The base housed 400 insurgents who were planning to attack Metuge, the district directly to the north of the provincial capital of Pemba, and Mieze, a settlement just outside Pemba — though the report did not say how it knew the insurgents’ intentions. The government forces reportedly destroyed around 30 huts in the operation. The report was accompanied by a photo gallery, which showed some burnt and burning patches of grass, some aerial photos of smoke, and two photos of soldiers apparently in action. None of the photos showed any enemy engagement. The file names of the photos indicated they had been received by WhatsApp on Wednesday evening.

An almost identical account of events was published at almost exactly the same time by Portuguese commentator Nuno Rogeiro, on Facebook. Rogeiro’s account appeared at 22:43 local time — four minutes after Notícias de Defesa’s account went live. Rogeiro’s account also said 100 insurgents were killed, and put the number of dead on the government side at around 15. Tweeting later in English, he said around 12 government troops were killed in action.

An alternative account was published on ‘Bifes de Pemba’, a Facebook page of unknown ownership which publishes news on Cabo Delgado. The account — which security analysts told Zitamar sounded more credible than that published by Rogeiro and Notícias de Defesa — claims to be from an anonymous member of the company of special forces police and marines who carried out the operation, but failed to take the base. They were initially supported by helicopters, which had to return to Pemba to refuel — during which time the government troops were ambushed, the report said. The helicopters later returned, allowing the government forces to shell the base with 30 mortars — but even then they were not able to take it, according to the anonymous account. The fighting caused deaths on both sides, they said.

Zitamar sources said they heard shots fired and saw six helicopters circling in the skies above the area. Two women escaped from the base shortly before it was attacked and fled to Mitambo. They emerged from the bush at the ADPP junction on the E380 where there is a turn-off towards Bilibiza. A farmer in Mitambo who spoke to the women told Zitamar that the base was attacked by men on the ground and helicopters in the air, with lots of smoke being seen from the area of Cagembe.

This article was produced by Zitamar and Mediafax under the Cabo Ligado project, in collaboration with ACLED and with support from Crisis Group. The contents of the article are the sole responsibility of Zitamar News.