Maputo — The Mozambican armed forces have taken full control of the town of Palma, in the northern province of Cabo Delgado, driving out the remaining islamist terrorists who had attacked the town on 24 March.
The FADM flew a group of Mozambican and foreign journalists to Palma on Sunday, so that they could see for themselves that the town was back in the hands of the defence and security forces.
The previous visit by journalists was on 30 March - but the town was not then secured. The reporters came under gunfire from the islamists, and had to be evacuated to the provincial capital, Pemba. But this time there was no gunfire, and the military are confident they have driven the terrorists out.
As film shot by crews from Mozambique Television (TVM) and the private station Miramar showed, Palma is now a ghost town. Most of the population has fled, and so the streets are deserted and eerily quiet. In the centre of the town are ransacked buildings such as the Palma health centre, and branches of the country's main commercial banks.
"Palma has been completely taken by the Defence and Security Forces", Brig Vidigal Chongo, the spokesperson for the Northern Operational Theatre, told the journalists.
On Saturday, the FADM cleared the terrorists out of the area around the local catholic church, and from the Palma aerodrome, thus making it possible for the military to fly in reinforcements.
The next step, said Chongo, is to bring the people displaced from Palma back into the town. He recognised that this would be a difficult and sensitive task, since the terrorists try to mingle with the local population. It would take great care on the part of the defence forces to ensure that the return of the displaced people does not become the cover for a new jihadist attack.
The governor of Cabo Delgado, Valige Tauabo, declared "Our presence here is because we know that the defence and security forces have committed themselves to the cause of the motherland. The work they have done ensured that the enemy was defeated".
Over 9,000 displaced people from Palma fled to Pemba and to the towns of Mueda, Nangade and Montepuez. But the majority of the townspeople are still in Palma district. About 20,000 are thought to have taken refuge in the Afungi Peninsula, about 15 kilometres from the town, and in the resettlement site of Qitunda.
Afungi is where a consortium headed by the French oil and gas company Total had been building natural gas liquefaction plants. But Total withdrew all its remaining staff, Mozambican and foreign, from Afungi on Friday.
So far, Total has said nothing about when, or even whether, it will resume activities in Afungi.
To date, the authorities have issued no figures for the dead and wounded, among the Mozambican forces, the civilian population or the terrorists themselves.