United Nations alarmed at Cabo Delgado ‘horror’ in Mozambique
Geneva – United Nations agencies have expressed horror and alarm at the violence inflicted on civilians in Palma, where they have no access and insurgents who are locally known as "al-Shabaab" have control.
"What has happened in Palma is an absolute horror being inflicted on civilians by a non-state armed group," said Jens Laerke, spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) at a UN press conference in Geneva.
"They have done horrific things; they are still doing so; we have reports this morning of continued sporadic clashes, that is why we are talking about our expectations of thousands more people moving out from Palma district towards other areas of the country and the border with Tanzania."
He added that "communications are down in Palma, and it is extremely challenging to verify information on the situation."
At the same time, Laerke said, UN agencies are hamstrung in the area due to a lack of response to the organisation's appeal for contributions to Mozambique's joint humanitarian response plan.
He said the plan, which is heavily focused on the situation in the north of the country, calls for aid totalling $254 million.
"But today it is one percent funded, so we can do one percent of what we would like to do to help those people," said Laerke. "We are going to have a lot more people who are going to need a lot more aid in the days and weeks ahead."
UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) spokesman Paul Dillon spoke of the plight of civilians in the troubled Mozambican province that has been wracked by sporadic violence since 2017.
"As of this morning, March 30, we can tell you that 3,361 internally displaced people - that's 672 families - have been registered by IOM's Displacement Tracking Matrix," Dillon said.
"They are arriving by foot, by bus, by plane, and by boat, from Palma to Ullongwe, Mueda, Montepuez districts, as well as Pemba city."
Insurgents who operate under the name Al Sunnah wa Jama'ah (ASWJ), and who are supported by ISIS militants in Iraq and Syria, have consolidated their hold in Cabo Delgado and captured the city of Mocímboa da Praia last year.
They are reported to be in control of Palma, where the UN does not have access. UN humanitarian agencies refrain from naming the group.
UN Refugee Agency spokesman Andrej Mahecic said, "This is a crisis where the violence has directly targeted civilians, in villages and cities in Cabo Delgado. Many have been killed and maimed, houses have been looted and burned, and the fields of these people have been destroyed.
"People have been chased from their homes and have fled with very few possessions, in most cases without even their documents. The women and girls have been abducted, forced into marriages, in some cases raped, and subjected to other forms of sexual violence. There are also reports of children being forcibly recruited into these insurgent armed groups."
Marixie Mercado of the UN Children's Agency UNICEF, spoke from Pemba in Cabo Delgado of children's plight in the conflict.
"Many have spent days hiding in the bush without food and water. There were some terrible scenes. One injured girl, around five years old, was carried off the plane moaning in pain," said Mercado.
UN officials were asked about the risks of failure for the Total energy company's onshore development of liquefied natural gas (LNG) but could not add information.