Maputo — The spokesperson for the General Command of the Mozambican police, Inacio Dina, has denied that there was any terrorist attack last week in Nangade district, in the northern province of Cabo Delgado.
According to local sources cited by the Mozambican media, 12 people died last Thursday night when unidentified raiders, believed to be islamic fundamentalists, attacked the village of Chicuaia Velha, in Nangade. The raiders also burnt down about 40 houses, and precipitated an exodus by frightened villagers heading for the Tanzanian border.
So was Dina alleging that these reports were entirely fictional? Speaking at his weekly Maputo press briefing, he declined to confirm or deny the deaths and the destruction of homes, but insisted that if a terrorist attack had occurred, the police would have reported it.
"For specific cases that are called attacks, we have to give prompt information, and we dedicate ourselves specifically to these cases", he said. "We have never declined our responsibility to communicate about cases of this nature".
Dina claimed that the security situation in Cabo Delgado is under control "as it is throughout the country". Pressed by reporters, he insisted that "in general the scenario of the guarantee of public order, security and tranquillity is continuing. The Defence and Security Forces are continuing to do their job in some localised points in the province. In general, order and security are guaranteed".
And yet last week, Education Minister Conceita Sortane said that because of the security situation in the Cabo Delgado district of Macomia, some schoolchildren were unable to take their exams, and alternative arrangements were being made.
Asked about this, Dina said "there could be various reasons why the children did not take their exams" - such reasons could include thefts in their homes or fires, and these incidents "will cause some reorganisation". So, in Dina's view, missing the exams was not necessarily the result of terrorist attacks.
The Mozambican National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) takes an altogether less sanguine view of the situation in Cabo Delgado. Its chairperson, Luis Bitone, cited in Wednesday's issue of the independent newssheet "Carta de Mocambique", suggested that a state of emergency should be declared in the zones affected by the attacks.
He said he made this suggestion in meetings with Justice Minister Joaquim Verissimo, and with the chairperson of the Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, Veronica Macamo, after a CNDH delegation had visited Cabo Delgado.
On the ground, the delegation had noted deaths, destruction of property and "massive violations of human rights" - but the problem was "how to clearly identify the violators".
For the insurgents are a shadowy organisation, with no clearly identified leadership. It is referred to locally as "Al Shabab", although its true name seems to be Ahlu Sunna Wa-Jama.
A further concern for the CNDH was the gross overcrowding in the prisons in the provincial capital, Pemba. Hundreds of people arrested as suspected insurgents are in jail awaiting trial and Bitone accused the prison authorities of violating their basic rights.
There are problems with feeding the prisoners, and there is not enough space in the cells for all of them to sleep. As a result some are forced to sleep standing up, he said.
189 alleged insurgents are currently on trial in Pemba. In violation of the Mozambican constitution, the trial is being held behind closed doors, and very little news has seeped out.