Maputo — The Mozambican armed forces (FADM) on Saturday took full control of the aerodrome in the small town of Palma, in the northern province of Cabo Delgado, according to a report on the independent television station, STV.
Palma came under attack on 24 March by islamist terrorists linked to the self-styled "Islamic State". The Mozambican defence and security forces put up stiff resistance, and say they are driving the terrorists out of the town, house by house.
Control over the airstrip means that FADM reinforcements can more readily reach the town. The STV team is not in Palma, but is based in the provincial capital Pemba. Currently, there are no journalists in Palma, and cell phone communication, cut off by the terrorists during their attack, has not yet been restored.
The sources for the STV story are military, and they are in line with reports posted to social media claiming that the terrorists, known locally as Al-Shabaab, are gradually losing ground within Palma.
In addition to the airstrip, the FADM are said to be in control of the area of the Palma catholic church where, prior to Saturday, the islamists had been continuing to offer resistance. As the FADM's manhunt for the terrorists continues, sporadic shooting can still be heard in the town.
The Mozambican forces have announced no figures for casualties, either their own dead, or those of the raiders. Over 9,000 people who have fled from Palma, particularly to Pemba, have been counted by humanitarian aid agencies, but many thousands more are still in the vicinity of Palma, notably in the Afungi peninsula, some 15 kilometres outside the town, where a consortium headed by the French oil and gas company Total had been building natural gas liquefaction plants.
Total has now completely withdrawn all its staff, Mozambican and foreign, from Afungi. The last ship from Afungi, carrying workers from the gas project, arrived in Pemba on Saturday.
As of Sunday, there was still nothing on the Total website about the withdrawal. Indeed, the most recent press release on the site is dated 23 March, and announces the resumption of construction activities at the Total Afungi site - a resumption that was aborted by the islamist attack the following day.
The Total camp was left in the hands of the Mozambican defence and security forces. Despite Total's public silence, it is reasonable to assume that the company will not return to Afungi until it receives cast-iron security guarantees.
A substantial investment has already been made, and so Total is unlikely to abandon Cabo Delgado altogether.