PRESSURE is mounting on President Emmerson Mnangagwa to deploy the Zimbabwean army into conflict-wrecked neighbouring Mozambique as part of a regional security force to stymie an intensifying advance by Islamic militants, a Jihadist group with ties to the self-styled Islamic State, fighting to seize the gas-rich northern province of Cabo Delgado.
Security sources told The NewsHawks this week that Mozambican President Felipe Nyusi last week urgently dispatched his Defence minister Jamie Neto to Harare to meet Mnangagwa on the need to urgently send the military to battle the insurrectionists.
Zimbabwe’s Foreign minister Sibusiso Moyo tonight confirmed Neto’s visit to Harare last week.
“The Mozambican Defence minister was here as part of regional, Sadc, consultations on the situation in his country,” Moyo told The NewsHawks.
Asked if Mnangagwa was going to soon and urgently deploy the army into Mozambique, Moyo said: “Whatever help or action is going to be taken, it will be in the context of Sadc and regional cooperation”.
This comes as Nyusi visited Tanzania on Monday to discuss the Islamist insurgency in Cabo Delgado, home to Mozambique’s huge multi-billion liquefied natural gas investments.
The two-day visit at the invitation of Tanzania’s President John Magufuli came days after a senior official from the United States Department of Defense met Mozambique government officials in Maputo to offer support to counter the insurgents.
Nyusi and Magufuli “should address as their main theme of work, the combination of efforts to effectively face the phenomenon of terrorism which has affected both countries, with an impact on the region,” the Mozambican presidency said in a statement.
Nyusi was accompanied by other officials, including the commander general of the police, Bernardino Rafael, and the head of the northern operational theatre, Major-General Eugenio Mussa.
Meanwhile, Anthony Tata, performing the duties of the US under-secretary of defence for policy, flew into Maputo on 8 January for a meeting with Neto, and Interior Minister Amade Miquidade.
The flurry of security meetings and fast moving developments come after intensified attacks by the militants on new year which forced French energy giant Total to suspend work at its US$20bn gas project in Cabo Delgado.
The source said the rebels’ 1 January attack on Quitunda village, just outside the gas project’s precinct, forcing the company to halt some of its operations, has put the Sadc troika under renewed pressure to meet urgently to discuss intervention and sending in troops to Mozambique.
As a result, Sadc is under escalating pressure to send in troops, the security source told The NewsHawks.
The Sadc troika of the organ on politics, defence and security includes, Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe as the current, incoming and outgoing chair respectively.
The troika met in Gaborone last November and again in Maputo last month as part of the urgent consultations.
The ongoing violence Cabo Delgado could spread to neighbouring provinces, officials and experts warn.
In the province of Niassa, west of Cabo Delgado, officials are expressing fear over a possible spillover of the armed conflict unfolding next door.
“We are very concerned about terrorism in Cabo Delgado,” Arnaldo Chefo, the chief police commander in Niassa, told reporters on Tuesday. “Being neighbors to that province, we have to be constantly vigilant so that terrorists do not penetrate our province.”
The growing insurgency has been raging in Cabo Delgado for over three years.
Neto has said Mozambique has no military capacity to contain it alone.
Rhodesian and Zimbabwe National Army retired Colonel Lionel Dyck has been holding forte in the gas-rich region for sometime, fighting as a security consultant.
Since the first attack in 2017 by a militant group known locally as al-Shabab, more than 2 000 people have been killed and over 500 000 others have been forced to flee their homes, according to the United Nations.
Militants linked to al-Shabab, which is considered the Mozambique affiliate of the Islamic State terror group, have reportedly carried out more than 600 attacks since the beginning of their insurgency.
The jihadists have taken control of territory in Cabo Delgado, including a strategic port, and burned dozens of villages across the resource-rich province.
Bordering Cabo Delgado to the west, Niassa province is currently home to tens of thousands of internally displaces persons seeking refuge from the violence.
The United Nations says most of the displace people have been settling in southern districts of Cabo Delgado as well as in Niassa and Nampula, a province that lies to the south.
Last week, heavy clashes broke out between government troops and militants in the village of Monjane near the coastal town of Palma, destroying at least 40 homes and causing a new wave of displacement.
This week, Cabo Delgado police confirmed a new attack carried out by the insurgents in the Quitunda village near a major gas project.
The growing violence in Cabo Delgado has forced the French energy firm Total to remove about 500 of its 3 000 employees.
The US has offered to assist the Mozambican government in combating the insurgency in the north.
“What we need to do is make sure that we in the United States are making available to our Mozambican partners every capability that we have to help them degrade and ultimately defeat that terrorist threat,” Nathan Sales, the US coordinator for counterterrorism, said in December following a visit to Mozambique.
Sadc leaders, including Mnangagwa, are expected to meet anytime now to decide when to deploy troops.