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Sadc states scared of terrorist retaliation over deployment

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THE threat of terrorist reprisals on Sadc member states has emerged as a major stumbling block to the regional grouping’s efforts to muster consensus on how best to tackle Mozambique’s deadly insurgency.

BERNARD MPOFU

According to a leaked strategy report compiled by a special Sadc technical assessment team, regional heads of state were expected to consider the immediate deployment of 2 916 military personnel, the bulk of which should be ground forces, including 140 special forces troops. 

The special forces were expected to go in first to “conduct targeted operations” in tandem with naval assets to “eliminate maritime crime in the area of operation”. 

The deployment has now been put on ice after the regional bloc postponed a crucial Sadc organ troika meeting initially scheduled for yesterday after two key regional leaders had urgent commitments. 

But an underlying fear of terrorist backlash over Mozambican intervention has emerged as a major issue for Sadc leaders.

“The team also couched the threat posed by insurgents as regional. Evaluating likely insurgent courses of action, the team predicted that the group would pursue ‘terror activities in the identified countries that are seen to be supporting Mozambique’. The insurgency’s goal, the team assessed, is to ‘expand the caliphate in Cabo Delgado and to the Sadc region’,” the report says.

This comes as civilians in Palma town remained under threat last week, with insurgents returning to the town and clashes between insurgents and government troops forcing more people to flee for the Tanzanian border, according to Cabo Ligado weekly newsletter.

On 19 April, civilians discovered the bodies of three young men who had been killed in the town.
Locals said the men were likely killed by government forces, who have been conducting violent sweeps of the town in an attempt to root out insurgents.

“Increased fears of insurgent activity in Pemba resulted in tragedy on 22 April, when government forces killed a young trader as he rode on a moto taxi past a security force checkpoint,” the Cabo Ligado says.

“The taxi did not stop at the checkpoint as a result of a misunderstanding. Government troops fired at it as it passed, killing the passenger and wounding the driver.

“Terrified, the driver continued driving all the way to Pemba hospital, but the passenger was dead by the time he arrived.”

It continues: “On the evening of 23 April, an attack believed by sources on the ground to have been perpetrated by insurgents resulted in at least five civilian deaths and seven homes burned in Palma’s Expansão neighborhood.

“Civilians displaced at Quitunda who asked government troops about the attack received no response, increasing fears that insurgents will target Quitunda directly.”

On 25 April, fighting erupted again in Palma town. Civilians in the town reported hearing heavy gunfire and explosions.

Many people who had been staying in the town left, heading north towards Tanzania in hopes of being transported to the Negomano border post in Mueda district, from which they can travel to Mueda town or Pemba.

Others joined the over 20 000 displaced people still stranded at Quitunda, from which there is little hope of evacuation in the near term.

The government has increased its estimate of the number of insurgents killed in the battle for Palma at the end of March to 41.

Military spokesman Chongo Vidigal told reporters that government forces found four insurgent corpses buried together on 15 April, increasing the count of insurgents killed from the previous estimate of 37.

Vidigal also said that insurgents kidnapped 150 youth during their raid on Palma, of whom three were able to escape. 

To address the perceived regional threat, the Sadc team presented two plans. The first is a deployment of Sadc forces (at a level the report describes as “minimal”) to Cabo Delgado to “support [the Mozambican military] to neutralise the terrorists in the area of operation.” 

The second is a training and logistical support package that would keep foreign troops out of the combat zone in Mozambique. The team recommended pursuing both plans simultaneously, bringing in foreign troops to help with the fighting, while standing up the training mission.

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