1. SADC Intervention: To be Or Not To Be?

Africa Confidential reports that SADC officials distanced themselves from a leaked strategy paper calling for a 3,000 strong intervention force to defeat Islamist insurgents. Pushing back against a growing determination among regional states to take concerted action to quell the insurgency in northern Mozambique, President Fillipe Nyusi has managed to engineer an ‘indefinite postponement’ of a Southern African Development Community security summit which had been due to be held on 29 April.

Insiders say that the official reasons for the postponement of the meeting – agenda clashes and coronavirus infections – were a convenient pretext, given sharp differences between Mozambique and Zimbabwe on the crisis. Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa favours a robust regional intervention force led by commanders from the Zimbabwe National Army, which undertook a similar operation in Congo-Kinshasa two decades ago. A draft strategy paper arguing for that kind of force but disowned by SADC officials was thought to have been leaked by Harare.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and Botswana’s Mokgweetsi Masisi were both unable to attend the planned SADC Troika meeting on Thursday (29 April), explained officials, with Masisi being forced to quarantine after being in contact with someone who has contracted Covid-19.

Meeting on 28 April, SADC foreign ministers agreed with the recommendation made by a SADC assessment mission which included military and intelligence experts from Angola, Botswana, Malawi, South Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe, and concluded that although there was a lull in fighting since the Mozambican army recaptured the town of Palma, the retreat could have been due to the start of Ramadan. As they were meeting, reports from Palma said the insurgents had relaunched attacks on the town.

Over the past year President Nyusi has hired both Russian and South African private military companies to fight the insurgents alongside local forces. Zimbabwean military sources say this isn’t working and a bigger force with more airpower is needed. South Africa and Botswana are uneasy about Zimbabwe taking a lead role in Mozambique’s conflict.

SADC is counting funding from the United States and European Union to support its proposed military deployment (3,000 troops) in Cabo Delgado, northern Mozambique, according to Andre Thomashausen, professor emeritus of international law at the University of South Africa (UNISA).

Thomashausen said that Pretoria “is desperately seeking” ways to strengthen and rehabilitate its military operational capabilities through the intervention in northern Mozambique and “SADC wants this entire operation to be funded by support from the European Union and, to some extent, the United States. SADC is envisaging a role for the European Union of financial rather than logistical or human resources support.”

2. Dyck Advisory Group Still Hanging On

Mozambique has not renewed its contract with the Dyck Advisory Group, which provided air support to the Mozambican police. However, its boss Lionel Dyck is keeping his men on standby in the vast network of Mozambican parks, and also in Beira. Officially demobilised, Dyck Advisory Group (DAG) personnel did not return to South Africa after the paramilitary company’s contract was not renewed in early April. DAG, which provided air support to the Mozambican police’s counter-insurgency operations in Cabo Delgado, hopes to be involved again in the fight against the insurgent group. In the meantime, DAG founder Lionel Dyck has placed some of his people in Beira, far from the fighting in Cabo Delgado, under the leadership of Hendrik “Henk” Bam. This former British paratrooper, who moved into DAG’s core business of tackling poachers and then into counter-insurgency operations, has set up a team in the port city that could, if necessary, carry out ground operations.

Most DAG personnel have been stationed in Mozambique’s Zinave and Limpopo national parks – which Dyck visited after passing through Beira – and which are managed by the Peace Parks Foundation (PPF). DAG was already planning to store its militarised helicopters there in mid-March, while lawyer Peter-John Veldhuizen completed his internal investigation to determine whether, as Amnesty International has alleged, the group’s soldiers had “clearly violated international humanitarian law”. The publication of the report prompted Dyck to travel to Mozambique with PPF director Werner Myburgh, despite his health problems.

Dyck and Myburgh have a long history of working together in these parks, where DAG has been fighting poaching on behalf of the South African conservation fund through the Dyck Advisory Group Conservation Trust, now rebranded the Environmental Management and Conservation Trust (EMCT). Their collaboration will now be orchestrated by Sean van Niekerk, the DAG director and EMCT trustee.

3. Situation Update

On the evening of 23 April, an attack believed by sources on the ground to have been perpetrated by insurgents resulted in at least five civilian deaths and seven homes burned in Palma’s Expansão neighborhood. Civilians displaced at Quitunda who asked government troops about the attack received no response, increasing fears that insurgents will target Quitunda directly.

A woman who was among those kidnapped during the original Palma attack of 24 March was one of 48 displaced civilians who arrived in Nangade town early last week, having escaped insurgent custody. She reported that insurgents had attempted to march her and a large group of other civilians toward Pundanhar, in western Palma district. The convoy, which also included food and other goods looted from Palma, was eventually intercepted by helicopters associated with government forces on 27 March. It is unclear if the helicopters were from Dyck Advisory Group or if they were associated with the Mozambican military. The helicopters engaged in an attack against the convoy, killing many of the insurgents and wounding some of the displaced civilians. Those civilians who managed to escape, walked roughly 100 kilometres in a westerly direction from where the insurgents fought with government aligned forces, eventually reaching Nangade, travelling only at night and hiding during the day.

Later, on 25 April, fighting again began in Palma. Civilians in the town reported hearing heavy gunfire and explosions. Many people who had been staying in the town fled, heading north towards Tanzania in hopes of being transported to the Negomano border post in Mueda district, from which they can travel to Mueda town or Pemba. Others joined the over 20,000 displaced people still stranded at Quitunda, from which there is little hope of evacuation in the near term.

The government has increased its estimate of the number of insurgents killed in the battle for Palma at the end of March to 41. Military spokesman Chongo Vidigal told reporters that government forces found four insurgent corpses buried together on 15 April, increasing the count of insurgents killed from the previous estimate of 37. Vidigal also said that insurgents kidnapped 150 youth during their raid on Palma, of whom three were able to escape, and the rest are still unaccounted for.

4. Palma Likely To Be Attacked Again After Ramadan

On 3 May, Joseph Hanlon reported as follows in Club of Mozambique:

Following the model of attacks and occupation of Mocimboa da Praia, the insurgents are now trying to clear the population from Palma in advance of an attack expected soon after the end of Ramadan on 12 May.

Everyone wants to flee, but the Mozambican government is not letting anyone leave. Effectively they are keeping up to 20,000 people hostage to try to forestall the next insurgent attack. And the people are now sick and hungry, as no international humanitarian aid is permitted.

Roads out of Palma are closed and road traffic has been stopped in Palma itself which is largely a ghost town. The resettlement village of Quitunda just outside the gates of the Afungi gas project is 10 km from Palma by foot or 20 km by car. Thousands of displaced people are now camped there.

Insurgents took Palma – largely without resistance – on 24 March and held it for 10 days. Then the insurgents drifted back into the bush and the defence forces (FDS) regained control. There was widespread looting. Most residents fled into the bush or south to Quitunda, which seemed safer because it is on the Afungi peninsula with a larger military presence, and had not been attacked by the insurgents.

People did come out of the bush, at least to check their houses, and some life returned to Palma – including private minibus services. About two weeks ago the FDS put pressure on displaced people in Quitunda to return to Palma. But from 25 April there were a series of small attacks around the edges of Palma, with insurgents burning houses and warning people to leave town. They said there would be no major attacked during Ramadan, but they wanted the town empty before they attacked again after Ramadan.

Lack of food, clean water and health care has led to hunger (with reports of malnutrition) and disease, particularly malaria and diarrhoea. There are no international humanitarian and medical workers in the Palma area and there has been no foreign food or medical aid. The government and FDS insist that they must control distribution, and UN agencies such as World Food Programme will not accept that. Similarly foreign health workers are not allowed. And the stalemate continues.

People fleeing Palma are also going north and west. Many are fleeing to Tanzania, 35 km north by road, or by dhow (prevailing winds at this time of year make it much easier to sail north). More than 1000 have tried to flee to Tanzania. Many were accepted but then Tanzania closed the border. Recently it began carrying the refugees by truck west 225 km to the Negomano border post on the Mozambique side of the Unity Bridge. This at least gets them out of the war zone.

The alternative is to go 95 km west to Nangade, though zones controlled by insurgents. People are continuing to arrive by foot and car. Police are holding 12 Palma civil servants who arrived in Nangade after 30 days being held by the insurgents. They had not been maltreated but some had malaria and swollen feet. It is not clear if they escaped or were released.

Johan Viljoen

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