CONFUSION reigned in Cabo Delgado last week after a string of violent incidents in which the identity of the perpetrators was not immediately clear.
Around 15 June, civilians near Novo Cabo Delgado, Macomia district, discovered at least seven (one source reports eight) dead bodies, some of which had been shot and others which appeared to have wounds from bladed weapons.
The dead were identified as local civilians. It is unclear when they were killed, or by whom, although the discovery of their bodies comes shortly after another incident nearby in Litamanda (detailed below) in which locals believe that Mozambican soldiers killed civilians and then beheaded them in order to pin blame on the insurgents.
On 17 June, civilians remaining in Quitunda, just south of Palma town, fled as shots rang out in the early morning. What many believed to be an insurgent attack turned out to be an unannounced raid by government forces, ostensibly in an effort to root out insurgents among the population at Quitunda.
During the raid, government troops ransacked the makeshift settlement at Quitunda, looting the property of the displaced people who live there. Civilians in the area say that the unit responsible is on the verge of rotating out of Palma, vastly reducing the chances that they will face any consequences for their looting.
Back in Novo Cabo Delgado, a group of eight insurgents attacked the village on 19 June. They killed six civilians working the fields on the outskirts of the village, and another civilian in the village who attempted to contact the local militia.
They also damaged homes and looted property. On their way out of the village, however, the insurgents were ambushed by a local militia force.
The militia killed five insurgents and injured the other three. The insurgents dropped the goods they had looted from the village, as well as six firearms that the militia members recovered.
Earlier incidents also came to light last week, including two on 12 June in Palma town.
The first happened in the northern part of the town, which many refer to as “upper Palma.”
A group of self-appointed vigilantes in lower Palma, where government control is higher and more civilians are concentrated, received a report that there were a small number of insurgents remaining in upper Palma and went to confront them with machetes.
Arriving in upper Palma, the group found six well-armed insurgents, who shot at them, killing three. Later that day, the insurgents retaliated, entering lower Palma and killing seven civilians, including two children and two adults who were in the area foraging for food to bring back to Quitunda.
Also on 12 June, seven people from Litamanda, in northern Macomia district, were beheaded while working in the fields outside of the village.
Litamanda residents initially suspected that insurgents were the perpetrators due to the grisly nature of the killings. Local militia members, however, soon came to suspect government forces. Soldiers in the area were evasive when asked about the killings, and some of them had blood on their uniforms.
The soldiers allegedly involved in the killings soon left the area, returning to Macomia town.
Litamanda residents now believe that the soldiers killed the civilians in order to loot their property, and then beheaded them to make it seem as though insurgents were responsible.
New details also emerged last week about the insurgency’s ransoming of hostages captured during the 24 March Palma attack.
The family of an Indian man who had been working in Palma before being abducted during the attack has gone public to ask Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to assist them in recovering the man.
The family says that insurgents called the man’s employer and demanded a ransom of US$1 million, which the employer is willing to pay.
The holdup is that Mozambican security forces will not let the employer deliver the cash inside the area along Mozambique’s border with Tanzania as specified by the insurgents.
Mozambican forces have facilitated other ransom payments, and the family hopes that pressure from Modi will force the Mozambican government to allow this one to go through as well.
Incident Focus: Evolving Situation in Palma
Reports from the area around Palma town were often muddled last week, reflecting a fast-evolving situation. After a long period in which many people displaced from Palma felt that the resettlement village of Quitunda was the safest place to wait until they could escape the district altogether, it seems that fragile peace has begun to break down.
By the end of May, most of those who had remained at Quitunda had moved camp to Maganja, on the beach further out on the Afungi peninsula. Since then, those remaining in Quitunda and lower Palma have faced a range of threats.
Two main threats are detailed in this week’s Situation Summary — civilians in southern Palma are at the mercy of both insurgents and government forces.
Insurgents appear capable of committing violence in lower Palma at will, with no repercussions from state forces. Government troops, meanwhile, apparently feel at liberty to loot civilian property, especially if they know they will soon be leaving the area.
The longer displaced people are stuck in the Palma area, however, the wider the range of threats they will face. One of those threats is insurgent recruitment.
A group of displaced people who arrived in Pemba on 20 June after escaping Palma described a meeting insurgents held with civilians in lower Palma on 16 June.
At the meeting, insurgents addressed civilians, asserting that they are more important figures in the civilians’ lives than Mozambican president Filipe Nyusi, as the insurgents can physically reach the civilians at any time. In the run up to the meeting, insurgents re-kidnapped three children in lower Palma who had fled insurgent custody after being taken during the 24 March attack on Palma.
The kidnappings serve in part to underscore the insurgents’ argument that civilians in Palma should, if not join the insurgency outright, at least comply with its orders, as the government cannot protect them.
As if in an effort to press the same point home, government forces looted civilian property in Quitunda early the following morning.
These and other threats will become more acute as more people escape the area. As of 16 June, the United Nations International Organization for Migration estimated that over 80,000 people had been displaced from Palma, and the number continues to go up.
A shipload of roughly 100 displaced civilians arrived in Pemba from Palma on 11 June, and more people are moving on from Palma each day.
As the number of civilians in the Palma area dwindles, those who remain will only become more vulnerable to both state and insurgent coercion.
Without a concerted evacuation effort, there is a risk that at a certain point those remaining in Quitunda, lower Palma, and Maganja will be compelled to join the insurgency as a survival strategy.
Those who flee Palma continue to be subject to deep suspicion from government forces. The 100 displaced people who made it to Pemba on 11 June were forced to wait out in the cold for hours until security forces checked their baggage and were satisfied that there were no disguised insurgents among the group.
Once displaced people arrive in Pemba, one of the many threats they still face is harassment from security services for lacking identification documents.
According to a new report by the Catholic University of Mozambique (UCM), which has been assisting the government in its “Caravana Jurídica” initiative aimed at issuing replacement identification documents to displaced civilians, UCM staff have had to repeatedly intervene to prevent security forces from extorting or arresting displaced people in both Pemba and Metuge for lacking documentation.
Caravana Jurídica has issued replacement documentation to 7,000 displaced people, and plans to reach 20 000 in total.
Conversely, some threats have receded for the time being. Provincial health authorities announced last week that the cholera outbreak in Cabo Delgado has ended, with no cholera hospitalizations reported since April.
The announcement is welcome news for displaced people at heightened risk of cholera, but relief may be temporary.
Humanitarian workers warn that heavy rains in areas with sanitation infrastructure inadequate to handle population increases from incoming displaced people will likely lead to new outbreaks.
Local businesses in Cabo Delgado received more bad news last week, as it was reported that French energy major Total declared force majeure on the remainder of its major contracts in the province, delaying payments that would have found their way in part into the local economy.
Total has said that it expects the declaration to remain in place for at least a year.
On the international front, the United States announced a pledge of US$30 million to support World Food Programme (WFP) efforts in Mozambique.
The money makes a substantial dent in WFP’s projected funding shortfall for Cabo Delgado, but the overall humanitarian effort remains severely underfunded.
In an interview before the US announcement, the United Nations resident coordinator in Mozambique, Myrta Kaulard, said that the overall 2021 humanitarian request of US$254 million had only been met with US$24.3 million in donations.
Even with the added US$30 million from the US, the request is still only 21% funded with half the year gone.
In Europe, a member of the European Parliament from Portugal’s Socialist Party, Isabel Santos, urged dialogue between insurgents and the Mozambican government.
Her approach echoes suggestions made by members of Mozambican civil society and President Nyusi himself. Yet Santos’ stance does distance her from more right wing figures in Portuguese politics who have advocated a more militarised approach, indicating the divides in Portugal’s domestic political scene over how to respond to the Cabo Delgado conflict.
The Southern African Development Community (Sadc) will hold its Extraordinary Summit in Maputo tomorrow — 23 June — where regional heads of state and government will, according to a statement from South African president Cyril Ramaphosa, “consider the proposed Sadc Regional Response” to the Cabo Delgado conflict. Meetings are already taking place at the ministerial level.
— Cabo Ligado Weekly.
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