In Mozambique, a new wave of brutal attacks sends tens of thousands of people fleeing – 02/28/2024 at 2:01 p.m.

((Automated translation by Reuters, please see disclaimer

Tens of thousands of Mozambicans are fleeing their homes in the restive province of Cabo Delgado, following an increase in deadly attacks by insurgents since January.

The attacks, despite a massive security crackdown, continue as French oil company TotalEnergies TTEF.PA aims to restart a $20 billion liquefied natural gas terminal in Cabo Delgado in the coming months. The project was halted in 2021 after a deadly Islamic State-linked attack in a nearby town.

Among the recent attacks, a deadly skirmish on February 9 claimed the lives of 25 soldiers of Mozambique’s armed defense forces, according to local media, a major blow to the government’s efforts to quell violence over the course of a year electoral.

On Tuesday, a senior government official said just over 67,000 people had fled attacks in recent weeks, with many displaced to neighboring Nampula province and others to safer areas of Cabo Delgado .

“What is of particular concern to UNICEF is that the majority of these displaced people are women and children, more than two-thirds of the total,” Guy Taylor, UNICEF spokesperson in Mozambique, said on Wednesday. .

Since the start of the year, 56 incidents of aggression by insurgents have been recorded, said Tertius Jacobs, chief analyst for Mozambique at risk management firm Focus Group.

“Just two months into the year, we have already recorded more than half the number of attacks last year,” he added.

The insurgents were attacking civilian targets such as churches and homes and posed a “significant risk” to a major highway, the EN1, which carries essential goods to the port of Nacala, Jacobs added.

TotalEnergies chief executive Patrick Pouyanne said the company was monitoring the situation to ensure it was safe before committing to restarting operations.

“What I want to avoid is making the decision to bring people back and then being forced to evacuate them again,” he said at the beginning of February when the annual results for 2023. The company did not wish to make further comments on the latest attacks.

Mozambique’s defense ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

ExxonMobil XOM.N , which plans to build a separate LNG terminal in Cabo Delgado, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Analysts expect the Rwandan army, which mainly patrols the energy hub area north of Cabo Delgado, to expand its role once a southern African regional military force completes its deployment to Mozambique in July.

“The insurgency is nowhere near ending and normalization is driven by economic interests and not the realities of Cabo Delgado,” said Jasmine Opperman, an extremism expert specializing in southern Africa.

“This is organized chaos aimed at creating fear, recruiting and spreading a narrative of Islamic extremism,” added Ms. Opperman.

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