Northern Mozambique town attacked by rebels for third day

JOHANNESBURG — The town of Palma in northern Mozambique remained under attack from insurgents for a third day Friday, with residents trying to flee to safety and most communications cut off.

International companies were only able to contact their staff in Palma by satellite phone, according to various company representatives. People are hiding in Palma’s Hotel Amarula and at an area outside the town where there is a large liquified natural gas project by the France-based firm, Total, according to multiple sources.

Hundreds have sought refuge in Quitunda, a village near the Total project, and have called for the provincial government to evacuate them, according to a message sent by a man who identified himself as Reginaldo Americo Chirindzane. He said he had gone to the area on the Afungi peninsula, in order to access the WiFi signal at the Total project.

Palma, in Cabo Delgado province, was attacked “in three directions” by “terrorists,” according to an official with Mozambique’s defense ministry.

The coordinated attacks began Wednesday just hours after Total announced that it would resume work on its multi-billion-dollar liquified natural gas project just a few kilometers outside Palma, which is near Mozambique’s border with Tanzania.

Mozambique’s defense and security forces are “working tirelessly to re-establish security and order as fast as possible” and will “do everything to guarantee the security” of the local population and of the nearby “economic projects,” Ministry of Defense spokesman Col. Omar Saranga said at a news press conference Thursday in the capital, Maputo. The government has not issued new information since then.

Palma had been largely cut off from the rest of Cabo Delgado province for several weeks, as the rebels made road access unsafe, leaving the airport and the seaport as the only routes in and out of the town.

The rebels already hold the port town of Mocimboa da Praia, which they captured in August. Since then, the insurgents have seized nearby villages. The rebels have beheaded scores of people, causing more than 670,000 residents to flee their homes, creating a humanitarian crisis in northern Mozambique.

Bowker reported from Uzes, France.