Maputo — The number of people known to have fled from the town of Palma, in the northern Mozambicans province of Cabo Delgado, following the attack by islamist terrorists on 24 March, has now risen to over 9,000.
In a statement issued on Friday, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Activities (OCHA) said that 9,158 people, 45 per cent of them children, fleeing from Palma, have reached the provincial capital, Pemba, and the districts of Nangade, Mueda and Montepuez.
This figure does not include those who fled northwards, trying to reach Tanzania, and those who are still in the bush. An unknown number of displaced people are in Quitunda, 15 kilometres south of Palma. The total population of Palma town, according to the National Statistics Institute (INE), based on the 2017 census, is 27,586.
The OCHA says that "the situation remains volatile, and thousands of people are on the move in search of security and assistance".
A centre to receive the Palma displaced has been set up in Pemba port. The authorities, quite illegally, have refused to allow reporters to photograph the arriving refugees from Palma.
OCHA spokesperson Jens Laerke, cited by the Portuguese news agency, Lusa, declared that the situation in Palma "is an absolute horror inflicted on civilians by a non-state armed group. They have done horrible things and are continuing to do them".
According to the independent television station, STV, sporadic shooting was continuing in Palma on Friday, as the Mozambican defence and security forces attempted to drive the terrorists out of the town. But currently there are no journalists inside the town, and telephone communications, cut by the raiders on 24 March, have not yet been restored, making it difficult to confirm any reports.
15 kilometres outside the town in the Afungi Peninsula, the consortium headed by the French oil and gas company, Total, have withdrawn all their staff from the site where natural gas liquefaction plants are to be built.
According to the Reuters news agency, all the Total staff were withdrawn on Friday. This leaves the Total camp in the hands of the Mozambique defence forces, who must now protect it until whenever it is deemed safe for Total to return.
Radio Mozambique on Thursday quoted the spokesperson for the Northern Operational Theatre, Brig Chongo Vidigal, as saying that the area around the Total camp is being patrolled day and night to protect it from islamist attack.
"It is protected. At no time was its integrity at stake", said Vidigal.