Mozambique: Total Evacuates Afungi, Correctly Predicting 1 Jan Attack

Total Kenya: Fuel prices go up again second month is a row (file photo).

Insurgents reached the gates of the Afungi LNG project on Friday 1 January. After a series of ever closer attacks, Total evacuated most of its staff from Afungi and Palma last week. Fighting continued yesterday, and the military has banned sea traffic to Afungi and Palma.

Insurgents have been moving north and closing in on Afungi:

+ Since August insurgents have controlled Mocimboa da Praia, 55 km south of Afungi.

+ 9 December: insurgents attacked Mute (also Muite), 21 km south of Afungi. The insurgents then were repelled with the assistance of DAG (mercenary) helicopters. President Filipe Nyusi personally confirmed the attack and went on to say "Three days ago, the enemy wanted to approach Afungi. But thanks to our young people they were unsuccessful. Our young fighters have been accepting their role in this combat." But he spoke too soon.

24 December:

Insurgents returned to Mute, burning houses and taking food. The group of 80-120 insurgents was again ousted after heavy fighting, with deaths and injuries.

29 December:

Insurgents attacked Monjane (also called Mondlane) just 5 km south of the Afungi border fence; again there was fighting. A military patrol was ambushed on the road from Monjane north to Patacua on the edge of the Afungi zone, with two military and one insurgent killed. There was also an attack on Olumbe (also Olombe) on the coast 14 km south of the Afungi boundary, with people kidnapped. This accelerated the flight of Total staff. (Bloomberg 29 Dec, 1 Jan; Intelyse 25 Dec; Pinnacle News 29 Dec, 2 Jan; Lusa 10, 29 Dec; AIM 11 Dec)

+ Friday, 1 January:

There were attacks on the resettlement village of Quitunda which is in the Total area but outside the fence, and on the Riot Police (UIR) camp on the main road to the Afungi development, just at the gates of the project. There was some fighting and casualties, but it is difficult to establish the seriousness of these two attacks. Pinnacle News (2 Jan) reports that the fighting was continuing late yesterday. The rainy season has started and insurgents have been gathering food reserves in most raids, and the UIR camp is the main kitchen for the joint military-police task force.

Insurgents have also left leaflets saying Palma will be attacked on Tuesday 5 January

The map shows the sites of the attacks (purple arrows). The project has a land concession (Duat) which is the 6625 ha inside the yellow line. The blue line encircles the 4371 ha of the actual LNG industrial zone which includes the port, airport and will include gas liquefaction plants. Quituda resettlement village is in orange, within the Duat but outside the industrial zone. Palma town is at the upper left of the map and Mondlane (Monjane) at the bottom.

The map is hard to read on a phone, and to see the detail it is better to download it to read on a computer:

For more than a week, boats have been banned from travelling between Pemba and Palma, and there are now 12 boats in Pemba harbour, with food, equipment, and even a floating hotel for Afungi. (Pinnacle News 2 Jan)


Total accepts government cannot protect it

UIR special forces are the best trained and paid and have been assigned to protect Afungi. But Total's staff evacuation shows the gas company no longer trusts government forces to protect the project. Insurgents have been marching north for a week. Fixed UIR units can repel attacks, but they are not mobile and could not stop the movement of the insurgents. They seem to be waiting for the guerrillas to knock on their door - and thus go right to gates of Afungi.

Insurgents have been tightening the noose for weeks, recently closing the only open road to Palma - the terrible dirt road from Mueda that shippers had to use. And insurgents have been increasing pressure from the south. Mozambique's defence forces proudly win battles, but lose ground. The noose is tightening.

Total's standard response to the press is that it is accompanying the situation closely and maintains permanent contact with the government. So when Total decides to evacuate, it clearly means it has concluded that the government cannot protect it. And the evacuations of most staff and the ban on coastal shipping must slow down the project.

This raises broader questions. ExxonMobil was planning to build its gas liquification plants (LNG trains) on Afungi, and has repeatedly delayed its final investment decision. Insecurity must be raising questions for Total. They can build a big wall on the land side, but as the map shows, there is a large open area facing the sea. And the ban on cargo shipping suggests the Mozambican navy cannot protect that side either.

Will Total try to force the government to accept a major presence of the French army and navy? Or might it give up? Could it decide that the Anadarko/Occidental gas assets it bought elsewhere in Africa are a better bet? jh

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