UN says 5 000 Mozambique attack survivors have found refuge

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The town of Palma in Mozambique is said to be deserted.
The town of Palma in Mozambique is said to be deserted.
Ali Makram Ghareeb/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
  • While thousands remain stranded a week after the northern Mozambican town of Palma was besieged by jihadists, over 5 000 people have reached safety.
  • Armed militants ransacked buildings on 24 March, beheading residents as they fled.
  • The coordinated attack is seen as the biggest escalation of an insurgency that has battered Cabo Delgabo province since 2017.

More than 5 000 people have reached safety outside the northern Mozambican town of Palma a week after it was besieged by jihadists, the UN said on Wednesday, as thousands remained stranded.

Armed militants raided the coastal town on March 24, ransacking buildings and beheading residents as thousands fled into surrounding forest.

Dozens have been killed and many more are still missing in a coordinated attack seen as the biggest escalation of an insurgency that has battered Cabo Delgabo province since 2017.

"As of yesterday afternoon there were 5 360 displaced people... who had arrived in Nangade, Mueda, Montepuez and Pemba districts," International Organization for Migration (IOM) spokesperson Sandra Black told AFP on Wednesday.

"That displacement is rapidly increasing."

The fighting had already displaced around 670 000 people in the gas-rich province, more than 43 000 of which were staying in Palma before the attack.

Two boats carrying over 1 100 escapees had docked in the provincial capital Pemba earlier on Wednesday but had "yet to disembark" due to "security screening procedures", Black said.

Palma is around 10km away from a multi-billion-dollar liquified natural gas project (LNG) led by France's Total and involving other international companies.

Total had already suspended operations and evacuated some staff in late December after jihadists launched a series of raids near its compound.

Mozambique's government attempted to resolve the situation by stepping up security and declaring a 25km security perimeter around the LNG site.

Total had just announced plans to progressively resume construction work hours before the militants attacked Palma.

An unnamed army official told AFP soldiers had been sent to "mop up" the town, which fell to the militants on Saturday.

Outside the port of Pemba, residents with family in Palma anxiously scoured incoming survivors for familiar faces.

They milled around the port's barbed-wire walls and sat against nearby buildings.

"We don't know if our relatives are on the boats that are coming or not, but we are here, we are not losing hope," Muza Momadi told AFP as she waited for her mother and brother.

Helicopters carrying humanitarian personnel landed at Pemba airport, alongside a small plane flying troops back from Palma, said an AFP photographer at the scene.

One soldier leaned on a stick as he limped barefoot across the tarmac, trouser leg rolled up above the knee.

The government has not yet disclosed military casualties.

Cabo Delgado's jihadists have wreaked havoc across the province in a bid to establish a caliphate.

The insurgents are affiliated to the Islamic State group, which claimed the attack on Palma this week.

Their bloody campaign had claimed at least 2 600 lives, half of them civilians - a figure expected to rise significantly following the latest assault.

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