MAPUTO (The Southern African Times) – Troops are preparing an operation to recover a strategic port in northern Mozambique that was seized by jihadists three weeks ago, sources say.
Islamist militants occupied Mocimboa da Praia, the focus of a scheme to develop the region’s offshore gas wealth, on August 12 following days of attacks.
A senior military source who asked not to be named as he is not authorised to speak to the media told AFP on Wednesday that the state still has “no control” of the town.
Another source, who was also speaking in Palma 60 kilometres (40 miles) north of the port, said on Thursday that the military’s “priority is taking back” Mocimboa da Praia.
“Steps are already underway to retake the town,” a source in the capital Maputo said on Wednesday.
Locals have reported seeing busloads of soldiers moving northwards towards Mocimboa da Praia on the highway from Pemba, the capital of Cabo Delgado province.
Neighbourhood leaders have also been advising villagers to vacate their homes and head to Palma to minimise civilian losses in the event of clashes.
The loss of Mocimboa da Praia marks the latest step in an intensifying insurgency in the country’s north since 2017 that has killed more than 1,500 people and displaced 250,000.
It was the second time this year that the port — the logistical springboard for the Afungi liquefied natural gas (LNG) project — has been occupied, although the previous event lasted only a day or two.
The authorities contend that jihadists are living among the local population and this requires the military to respond carefully.
“Terrorists are mixing with the population and we cannot jeopardise” the public, Interior Minister Amade Miquidade said on Monday during a visit to Pemba by President Filipe Nyusi.
“That is why the actions of the defense and security forces must be finely calibrated so that they cause the least possible damage to communities.”