Mozambique: Militants Seize Town, Total Halts LNG Operations

Jihadis have seized a town and also allegedly attacked a convoy of fleeing civilians, including foreign workers, as fighting continued in the gas-rich region.

Islamist militants have seized control of the town of Palma in Mozambique's northern province of Cabo Delgado, killing several people, including a foreign worker.

They also allegedly attacked a convoy of fleeing civilians. At least one person was killed and a number wounded in the attack.

Nearly 200 people had been sheltering in the Amarula Palma hotel during the attack, three diplomats and one of the organizations with people inside told Reuters news agency.

Around 80 people were taken away from the hotel in military trucks on Friday, but some of the vehicles were ambushed, an official from a private security firm involved in the rescue operation, told AFP news agency.

It was not immediately clear how many people, if any, remained in the hotel and how many were missing.

Most means of communication with Palma are down.

Security concerns in the region

Fighting in the region began on Wednesday, hours after the French energy giant Total announced that it would gradually resume work at its $20 billion (€16.9 billion) project in the area after halting operations in January due to security concerns.

Human Rights Watch said witnesses had spoken of seeing "bodies on the streets and residents fleeing after the ... fighters fired indiscriminately at people and buildings."

No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack.

But recent attacks have increasingly been claimed by the Islamic State Central Africa Province (ISCAP), affiliated with the "Islamic State" group.

What did Total say?

Total said on Saturday it had postponed the restart of work at its site near Palma, a logistics hub adjacent to gas projects worth $60 billion.

No project staff members were among the victims of the fighting, it added.

But the company "has decided to reduce to a strict minimum level the workforce on the Afungi site."

"Total trusts the government of Mozambique whose public security forces are currently working to take back the control of the area," it said.

Efforts to rescue foreign nationals

Portugal's Foreign Ministry said one of its nationals had been injured in the fighting but did not specify the circumstances.

The person had since been rescued, and its embassy in Maputo was working to identify other Portuguese nationals who needed support, the ministry said.

South Africa's Foreign Ministry said some of its citizens had been affected by the attacks on foreign nationals. It did not elaborate.

Meanwhile, Spain's Foreign Ministry confirmed there had been a Spanish citizen in Palma who managed to flee the town.

Restoring order in Palma a huge challenge

Mozambique's government said on Thursday that security forces were working to restore order in Palma.

In a statement, the country's Defence Ministry said the group had "attacked simultaneously from three directions" including from the local airfield.

The extremists have since October 2017 raided villages and towns across Mozambique's north, causing nearly 700,000 to flee their homes.

Beheadings have been a hallmark of attacks by the jihadis.

The violence has left at least 2,600 people dead, half of them civilians, according to the US-based data collecting agency Armed Conflict Location and Event Data (ACLED).

sri/sms (AFP, Reuters)

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