MAPUTO, 30 March 2021 – The government of Portugal has said it will send troops to Mozambique to help fight Islamist militants who have engaged the army in gun battles in the northern town of Palma.
Dozens of defenseless civilians have been killed in the intensified fighting which broke out last Wednesday in the town situated in the northern province of Cabo Delgado.
The victims include seven people whose convoy was ambushed and all of them killed as they attempted to escape a siege o a hotel, according to Omar Saranga, a spokesperson for Mozambique’s defense ministry.
Around sixty soldiers are getting ready to be deployed to support the Mozambican army, the Portuguese foreign ministry, Augusto Santos Silva told reporters Tuesday in Lisbon.
The Mozambique defense ministry estimates that hundreds of Islamist militants stormed Palma last Wednesday, targeting a bank and shops – which were looted – as well as a hotel, where expatriate workers from Britain, France and South Africa were held hostage.
A group of terrorists sneaked into … Palma and launched actions that resulted in the cowardly murder of dozens of defenceless people,” Saranga told journalists during a briefing Sunday.
The other victims were shot dead or beheaded by the insurgents.
Palma, which is situated only a few miles from major international oil and gas projects, including the mega Total oil and gas project in Cabo Delgado province, is a logistics hub.
People are fleeing the town in droves, with thousands believed to be hiding in nearby forests.
Boat traffic has been heavy, evacuating fleeing Palma residents in the direction of the port city of Pemba, according to news reports citing maritime authorities.
The headless bodies of victims beheaded by the militants were strewn on the beach of Palma, according to eyewitnesses cited by the BBC.
Dozens of expatriates working on the Total oil and gas project near Palma have been flown to safety in helicopters.
The United Kingdom’s Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Africa James Duddridge tweeted Sunday that London was contacting Britons in the area to provide support.
The UK wholeheartedly condemns the appalling violence in Cabo Delgado. It must stop. We stand with the people of Mozambique against terror,” Duddridge’s tweet read in part.
Palma is a ghost town Monday with most of its 75,000 inhabitants either in hiding or unaccounted for.
A majority of the 75,000 people who live in Palma have fled growing insecurity and violence elsewhere in Cabo Delgado and were hoping that they had found a safe haven in the town until the Islamist militants attacks of last Wednesday.
The insurgents are linked to the Islamic State (IS) group.
Since the violence broke out in the predominantly Muslim Cabo Delgado in 2017, more than 2,500 people have been killed and nearly 600,000 have been internally displaced.