Below: Arrival of Botswana troops in Mozambique, and SAS Makhanda of the South African Navy arrives in Pemba

Government forces went on the offensive, after the arrival of the first South African commandos in Pemba. Eventually, they could be reinforced by the 214 Mozambican commandos and marines whom 45 Portuguese soldiers are training in counterterrorism, in Catembe, near Maputo, and in Chimoio, in the center of the country, the Ministry of National Defense said. These Portuguese, who are in Mozambique under a bilateral agreement, may be joined by up to 15 more troops, as well as a European Union military training mission, led in the field by Brigadier General Nuno Lemos Pires.

According to reports on Monday 2 August, the Rwandans have seized control of Mocimboa da Praia. However, victories on the battlefield will not resolve the insurgency, as long as the discontent of the population remains. It can even be aggravated by the multiplication of foreign military interventions in the province, without a single central command – and make it very difficult to hold anyone responsible for eventual abuses against civilians.

“The presence of multiple military missions is likely to lead to conflicting priorities and could lead to friction at the military command level. This will likely cause tensions between Maputo and its partners,” says Alexandre Raymakers, an Africa analyst at risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft. “Yes, it will also make accountability in cases of human rights abuse more difficult.”

“Think about the case of the invasion of Afghanistan,” explains Milissão Nuvunga, a researcher at the Center for the Study of Peace, Conflict and Welfare (CEPCB). “The intervention was a coalition, not a joint United Nations mission. The violations that still take place today are being tried by the courts of each country. For example, some Australian soldiers did target shooting with Afghan civilians they held, and this is tried in Australia. Even in an advanced rule of law, there were endless legal struggles», stresses Nuvunga. “How does a Mozambican bring a court case to Rwanda, South Africa, Zimbabwe, against the behaviour of its soldiers?”

Calton Cadeado, a peace and security expert at Joaquim Chissano University, fully agrees. “Today, the Mozambican government talks a lot about protecting human rights. But this troops from Rwanda don’t do that,” warns the investigator. “That’s why I say, tomorrow there will be human rights abuses. And who will pay the bill is the Government and the Mozambican troops».

Days after the arrival of Rwandan forces – known as the best trained, experienced in guerrilla and brutal wars in sub-Saharan Africa – they were already getting involved in the toughest confrontations, sometimes without the support of Mozambican troops.

The Rwandans brought with their new tactics. Since they were deployed on the outskirts of Palma, near Total’s oil explorations, Mozambican forces have been emptying the region of civilians, bringing them together in a refugee camp in Quitunda, in order to create a free-fire field for Rwandan troops – whoever they meet can be a potential target to shoot down.

The risks are immense. “When these attempts are made to empty territory – I underline, attempt – it is not guaranteed, because there are many who do not want to leave”, warns Calton Cadeado. As much as the military feels free to carry out more aggressive actions, and without witnesses, many inhabitants may hide and try to return to their land instead of going to the refugees settlements.

However, the strategy used by the Rwandan forces seems to be working. On July 20 they were already patrolling territory tens of kilometers from Palma, reaching the village of Quionga, where they found insurgents, killing some thirty as they retreated into the forest, trying to cross the Tanzanian border. They also advanced on the outskirts of Muidumbe, retaliating against a jihadist attack in the region, catching and killing 26 insurgents.

Rwandan armed forces have long been accused of causing chaos in the east of the DRC, a country they successfully invaded twice – the second time, dubbed the Great African War, between 1998 and 2008, resulting in an estimated 5.5 million dead.

Why does this matter for Cabo Delgado? Because “Rwanda faced a context very similar to Cabo Delgado in eastern Congo,” notes Milissão Nuvunga. “It is a military theater without government, without a state, there are only soldiers and villages there. This favors the Rwandan troops,” he explains. “I have serious doubts that the South African army will have the same success rate. It is not prepared for this conflict.”

Perhaps that is why France – which has huge economic interests in Cabo Delgado – supported the deployment of troops from Rwanda, and from Zimbabwe, whose government received a similar offer, instead of sending in its own troops, as it did in the Sahel, where thousands of French troops on the ground since 2014 have failed to prevent the proliferation of jihadists.

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