Situation Update:

Cabo Ligado reports that on the afternoon of 8 April, seven insurgents entered the village of Novo Cabo Delgado, in northwestern Macomia district near the Muidumbe district border. Finding it deserted, they looted food and other goods from the village. As they left, they were ambushed by members of a local militia. In the ensuing firefight, militia members killed three insurgents. One militia member was killed and another wounded. The surviving militia members identified two of the dead insurgents as being locals from Miangalewa, a village in Muidumbe district about 10 kilometers to the north.

In Palma, a man who had been displaced by the attack on the town returned to his home to find a significant cache of food there. He reported the situation to authorities on 10 April and, as a police source reported to Bloomberg journalist Borges Nhamirre, was found beheaded on 11 April. The man’s killing is an indication that even if insurgents are not openly stationed in Palma town, they can still access the area with relative ease to enforce their ban on civilian collaboration with the government.

At the Total project site on Afungi, sources report that roughly 50 South Africans, some armed, were flown into the site last week. It is unclear what their role will be at the site, but sources speculate that they may be charged with protecting the site from both insurgents and potential looting by government security forces.

Further information emerged last week about the toll taken by the Palma attacks. Mozambican military spokesman Chongo Vidigal told reporters on 9 April that government forces had confirmed 36 insurgents were killed during the fight for Palma. He said he expected that number to rise as more information becomes available.

A civilian who fled Palma for Pemba after the attacks told MediaFax that he had seen 87 dead civilians in Palma after the attacks — 80 Mozambicans and seven white people the man believed to be foreigners. The man’s testimony contradicts a claim by Mozambican police that 12 white people were killed by insurgents and were later buried by police in a mass grave outside the Amarula Palma Hotel.

Mozambican national broadcaster TVM reported on the looting of the town, showing the ruins of Palma’s banking and cellular communication infrastructure. According to their report, insurgents made off with around $1 million from the banks as well as six tons of food. Other reports suggest that it was government security forces who looted at least one of the banks, along with parts of the Amarula Palma Hotel.

Another survivor of the Palma attack reported that insurgents told civilians they would be in Pemba within six months. Those threats, alongside reports that insurgents were among the displaced civilians who fled to Pemba from Palma, have increased concerns of an impending attack on Pemba.

Mozambican president Filipe Nyusi last week appointed a ministerial task force to address the humanitarian crisis brought on by the attack. The task force comes three and a half years into the conflict and after nearly 700,000 Mozambicans have already been displaced from their homes and are suffering from a lack of preparation on the government’s part. The task force is said to include agriculture minister Celso Correia, whose work managing the humanitarian response to Cyclone Idai has been lauded, but whose leadership of the Northern Integrated Development Agency (ADIN) has left much to be desired.

Expanded US support for Mozambique is on the table, as State Department officials made clear in a press conference last week. Julie Cabus, a deputy assistant secretary in the department’s bureau of diplomatic security said that the department had “only recently been asked to assess Mozambique for an ATA [Antiterrorism Assistance] program, which we are very excited about and are looking forward to our continued partnership with Mozambique.” ATA programming is directed at law enforcement, offering US training and equipment to police forces for counterterrorism missions.

Expanded support may also be on the way from the Southern African Development Community (SADC). Following an Extraordinary Double Troika Summit in Maputo on 8 April to discuss the Cabo Delgado conflict, SADC agreed to send a technical mission to Mozambique to draw up a plan for a security support package that could include direct military intervention. Nyusi, who had long dragged his feet on enabling SADC involvement in the conflict, offered no objection to the mission. The technical team is scheduled to report its findings by 28 April. The team is expected to begin its work on 15 April, and will have less than two weeks to draw up its plan of action. Producing a plan will be difficult, as it will require consensus agreement among the interested parties.

The technical mission represents the first step forward toward SADC intervention in months, but it does not change the financial and capacity limitations under which Mozambique’s SADC partners are operating. COVID-19 and other factors have combined to severely limit the latitude regional militaries have for foreign deployments, suggesting that SADC assistance may be less substantial than advocates for regional intervention might hope. Indeed, Nyusi seemed to rule out major foreign deployments in Mozambique, saying in a speech that Mozambique will defend its sovereignty and that foreign interveners will “not come to replace us, they will come to support us.” Still, however, Nyusi’s openness to the SADC technical team does represent a distinct shift toward the Mozambican government being open to regional intervention.

Johan Viljoen

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