Mozambican army launches offensive after ISIL attack | Business and economic news
Rebels have invaded the city of Palma, the hub of a giant gas project, as violence continues in the Cabo Delgado region.
The fighting around the strategic city of Palma in Mozambique entered a second day on Thursday as fighters linked to ISIS occupied and sacked it as French energy giant Total claimed it was secure.
The government of Mozambique has confirmed that the city – in its northernmost province of Cabo Delgado and about 10 km (6.2 miles) from gas developments worth $ 60 billion – has been the subject of ‘a three-pronged attack on Wednesday and security forces intervened to restore order.
The attack came shortly after French oil giant Total announced plans to resume construction on the nearby site of a $ 20 billion offshore gas project.
Defense Ministry spokesman Omar Saranga said Mozambique’s security forces (SDS) “continued the movement of the enemy” and were “working tirelessly to restore security and order.”
“SDS will do everything to ensure the safety and well-being of the population … while continuing to guarantee the protection of economic projects,” he told reporters in the capital Maputo.
Saranga said the number of casualties and the extent of the damage were not yet known, adding that mobile communications in the area had been “cut off.”
Total did not comment immediately on the impact of the attack on its operations.
Hours after Total’s announcement, strategically important Palma, home to many international companies seeking to cash in on one of the biggest gas discoveries in a decade, had been hit by its first major strike.
Mozambican forces did not repel the attack Thursday morning and fighting was ongoing, according to sources in contact with the Mozambican government and military officials.
Joseph Hanlon, researcher and author on Mozambique, said the region’s vast mineral wealth has been exploited by a small elite, with the majority of residents reaping no profit, which has led to the rebellion.
“It really is a serious threat. One of the reasons the Palma attack is so important is that it is closest to the gas project in terms of scale. There were over 100 insurgents, it was well organized, well coordinated, ”Hanlon told Al Jazeera.
According to him, the information suggests that the attackers withdrew from Palma, but not before they robbed two banks and “took control of the city for a day”.
Palma is located over 1,800 km (1,120 miles) northeast of Maputo, in the gas-rich province of Cabo Delgado, where authorities have been battling a brutal rebellion since 2017.
Fighters affiliated with the armed group ISIL (ISIL) have attacked villages and towns in the province for years, causing hundreds of thousands to flee their homes.
The violence has killed at least 2,600 people, half of whom are civilians, according to the United States-based data collection agency, Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project.
Amnesty International said this month that the local population has been “caught” between fighters on one side and government security forces and a private militia on the other.
The watchdog accused all three parties of “war crimes” causing hundreds of civilian deaths.
The fighting has also shaken the development of Africa’s largest liquefied natural gas (LNG) project off the Afungi Peninsula, which is expected to come into operation in 2024.
Total is the main investor in the project with a 26.5% stake. Six other international companies are also involved, including the Italian Eni and the large American company ExxonMobil.
Total was forced to evacuate some staff in January after rebel fighters launched a series of attacks a few miles from the LNG site.