Maputo — Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi on Wednesday urged greater coordination of efforts between Tanzania and Mozambique in the fight against terrorism.
When he received the credentials of the new Tanzanian High Commissioner, Phaustine Kasike, Nyusi made it clear that the restoration of peace and security on the border between Tanzania and Mozambique is now the top priority for diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Since October 2017, Islamist terrorists who call themselves Ansar al-Sunna, have staged raids and destroyed villages across several districts in the northern province of Cabo Delgado. Several of the terrorists who have been detained, including leading figures, have turned out to be Tanzanian nationals.
Speaking to reporters minutes after the audience Nyusi granted to the Tanzanian diplomat, Foreign Minster Veronica Macamo stressed the importance of joint efforts between the two countries in order to counter the terrorist threat.
She claimed that both countries face the same problem, and that they have agreed to pay greater attention to defence and security, both in Cabo Delgado and in southern Tanzania.
“I really believe that what was discussed in today’s audience will result in something important for the two countries”, said Macamo.
Asked about the detention in Tanzania of people who allegedly wished to join the ranks of the terrorists, Macamo said the government has taken note of this claim and will investigate further see it there is any truth in it.
But Macamo only talked about defence and security cooperation after she was questioned by reporters. It was not mentioned in her initial statement.
She described the bilateral relations between Mozambique and Tanzania as “excellent” and hoped that, during Kasike’s term of office, the two countries could focus on the management of natural resources, cross-border conservation areas, and the integrated management of the basin of the Rovuma river.
There are signs that the Tanzanian authorities are beginning to take the terrorist threat more seriously. According to a Tanzanian press report, the southern brigade of the Tanzanian Defence Force has announced that it will launch an offensive against insurgents hiding in forests near the border with Mozambique.
A senior Tanzanian officer was quoted as saying “there are criminals in these forests and we have come here to work. We shall start with Ruvuma, and then we shall go to Mtwara and then to Lindi because there are people carrying out criminal activities and they are in these forests”. It is believed he was referring to the same islamists who operate in Cabo Delgado.
Clashes between the terrorists and the Mozambican defence and security forces flared up again in early August. According to the unofficial website “Noticias de Defesa”, on 6 August terrorist units launched simultaneous attacks against several locations in Mocimboa da Praia district, include neighbourhoods of Mocimboa da Praia town itself.
The first incursion came at about 04.00, followed by a second an hour later. The Mozambican forces claimed that they had repelled these attacks by 07.00, but some of the terrorists took refuge in civilian houses. This reports claimed that the defence forces counted the bodies of 16 dead terrorists.
“Noticias de Defesa” claimed that the groups that attacked Mocimboa da Praia were fleeing from terrorist bases named “Syria 1” and “Syria 2” – names that are a clear tribute to the links between Ansar al-Sunna and the international terrorist network that calls itself “Islamic State” (and is also known as ISIS or Daesh).
The report said that the defence forces have carried out intense shelling of islamist bases in southern Mocimboa da Praia, and the northern part of Macomia district.
But the onslaught against Mocimboa town was far from over. Fighting continued until Wednesday, when a terrorist unit invaded Mocimboa da Praia port.
A military source cited by the Portuguese news agency Lusa said “several of our colleagues in the navy have died”. Despite the resistance by the Mozambican forces, the terrorists installed themselves in the port area.
Lusa’s source said the defence forces “were not duly equipped” to face the attackers (which seems to mean that they ran out of ammunition). “Under these circumstances, we normally abandon the position, and then we prepare ourselves to try to retake it”, he said.
After repeated terrorist raids, Mocimboa town is virtually abandoned. Most of the civilian population has fled, many towards the provincial capital, Pemba, or over the provincial boundary into Nampula.
A press release from the joint command of the Defence and Security Forces also spoke of fighting for control of Mocimboa da Praia town, but said nothing about the islamists taking over the port. There had been attacks against the villages of Anga, Buji and Auasse and against Mocimboa town itself. “In the course of their actions to defend the population against terrorist raids, the defence and security forces attained several operational results, notably inflicting 59 losses on the terrorists and destroying six camps they had used”, said the release.
In the affected regions, actions are under way “to neutralise the terrorists who use the population as shields”, it added.
The Defence and Security Forces declared that they “are committed to re-establishing public order and security, and to defending the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”.