A joint force of Mozambican and Rwandan troops reclaimed the port town of Mocímboa da Praia in Mozambique’s north-eastern province of Cabo Delgado on Sunday morning, the two countries’ defence ministries announced.
The strategically and symbolically significant victory comes a year after the town was taken by Islamist insurgents, who are believed to have since made the town their effective capital. The town was also where the insurgency first announced itself, taking control of the town for two days after a surprise attack on 4 October 2017.
The regaining of the town is a coup for the 1,000-strong Rwandan deployment which was made while the Southern African Development Community was still coordinating its military mission for Cabo Delgado, which will be officially launched tomorrow. South Africa’s defence minister has described the arrival of Rwandan forces before SADC’s as “unfortunate”.
Joint operations between Mozambican and Rwandan forces have led “terrorists” to lose ground, “retreating from the zones where they have exerted relative influence,” Mozambican colonel Omar Saranga told a press conference in Maputo on Sunday afternoon. The Rwandan troops are being paid for “out of French coffers,” Mozambican newspaper Savana reported in July. French oil and gas company, Total, is developing a $20bn natural gas project in Cabo Delgado, but has suspended the project until Mozambique can bring the security situation in Cabo Delgado under control.
Mocímboa da Praia was retaken by 11am on Sunday, Saranga said, after Rwandan and Mozambican forces had taken villages to the north and west of the town which sits on Mozambique’s Indian Ocean coastline. A joint force operation had last week taken the junction town of Awasse, inland from Mocímboa da Praia, while another had fortified government positions in Palma district, to the north of Mocímboa da Praia, including the LNG project at Afungi, according to messages from Rwanda’s military spokesman seen by Zitamar News.
Saranga said the joint force had taken control of public and private infrastructure in Mocímboa da Praia, including local government buildings, the port, the airport, the hospital, markets, and restaurants. The port is of particular strategic importance to supply northern Cabo Delgado, including the LNG project and auxiliary services.
Since arriving in Mozambique less than a month ago, Rwanda’s troops have rapidly helped Mozambique’s armed forces to victories against the insurgency which had until now made the north-eastern part of Cabo Delgado all but uninhabitable due to brutal attacks which went largely unchallenged by Mozambique’s military and police.
After employing a private military company, Dyck Advisory Group, last year, Mozambican president Filipe Nyusi has finally reached out to foreign governments for support. Rwandan help arrived in July, three months short of the insurgency’s fourth anniversary, and the SADC Mission in Mozambique, or SAMIM, officially starts today, 9 August.
The SAMIM official launch will take place in Pemba, capital of Cabo Delgado, where Nyusi and his Botswana counterpart, Mokgweetsi Masisi, will inspect troops from South Africa, Botswana, Angola, Lesotho and Tanzania. Zimbabwe has also sent troops, but only to help train Mozambique’s armed forces, not to take part in combat operations, according to a statement from the Zimbabwean government.
Shortly before Rwanda’s deployment was announced, and after a meeting between Nyusi and Rwandan president Paul Kagame, a Rwandan dissident living as a refugee in Mozambique was abducted, apparently by police working with at least one Rwandan agent. An association of Rwandan refugees in Mozambique believes that the man, journalist Cassien Ntamuhanga, has been handed over to the Rwandan authorities.
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.