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Jihadist raids spark new exodus in Mozambique

#Jihadist #raids #spark #exodus #Mozambique

Even the exhaustion from walking 40 kilometres, fleeing jihadists who had attacked her village, could not mask the trauma on Maria Lourenco’s face.

An indelible image was imprinted on her mind.

“They beheaded two men and put their heads in a basin,” she told AFP.

“Then they handed over the heads to the wife of one of the victims to present to the authorities,” she said.

Her village in the Katapua area in Cabo Delgado province, the epicentre of a five-year-old jihadist insurgency in northern Mozambique, came under attack last weekend.

The 60-year-old grandmother fled on foot to the town of Chiure, 25 miles away, with her eight daughters and grandchildren.

Wearing blue flip-flops and clutching an improvised walking stick, she was standing in the town square waiting for her daughter-in-law to take her to the provincial capital Pemba.

The family’s terrifying experience underscores how Mozambique’s jihadist nightmare remains very far from over, despite military gains last year.

The insurgency erupted in October 2017 when fighters — since proclaimed to be affiliated to the Islamic State group — attacked coastal areas in northern Cabo Delgado, close to the Tanzanian border.

Bloody assaults on villages were followed in 2020 with the capture of the port of Mocimboa da Praia — a key part of a huge scheme to develop liquefied natural gas in the region.

In 2021, as Mozambique’s military floundered, Rwanda and the country’s neighbours deployed more than 3,000 troops, helping to push the militants out of their strongholds.

But the jihadists are now making incursions into the previously untouched south of Cabo Delgado and spilling over into neighbouring Nampula and Niassa provinces.

The insurgency has so far claimed more than 4,300 lives, and around a million people have fled their homes.

– ‘Evildoers’ –

An AFP correspondent in Chiure, a town with a population of around 100,000, saw around 500 people who had been uprooted from Katapua since the weekend.

They congregated in front of the town’s main square. Many had slept rough in the open. Others sheltered on shop verandahs watching over a few belongings tied in large sheets, and foam mattresses that they had managed to carry.

Along the dusty road connecting Chiure to Katapua, several women, men and children trekked on foot, their belongings balanced on heads, or on bicycles.

“Many arrived during the early hours exhausted and complaining of pain,” said Consolta Paulo, a nurse in Chiure. 

Villagers reported new raids in Katapua on Monday.

“The evildoers went on the rampage in the village and burned a chapel,” Katapua’s administrative head, Xavier Jamal, told AFP by phone. 

He said it appeared the attackers were the same group which last week had raided on ruby mine near Montepuez.

London-listed ruby mining giant Gemfields halted operations at its Montepuez mine following the attack at a neighbouring site.

Jamal appealed to villagers not to flee, insisting the military “are on the ground, controlling the situation”.

But locals have little trust in Mozambique’s ill-trained and under-equipped forces.

Elias Mario, 36, a peasant farmer, fled Katapua with his wife and two children. He stood next to his bicycle, his shoulders slumped despondently.

“I brought my family here, but we still don’t know where we’re going,” he said.

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#Jihadist #raids #spark #exodus #Mozambique

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