Human rights group accuses Mozambique soldiers of trapping civilians in insurgent-hit north

Palma has been hit with insurgency.

Palma has been hit with insurgency.

Ashraf Amra/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

  • A human rights group says that Mozambique soldiers are trapping civilians in an insurgency-hit part of the country.
  • The group says most of these civilians fled their homes after attacks on Palma.
  • It has alleged that the security forces imposed restrictions that prevent people from leaving.

Mozambican security forces are preventing tens of thousands of civilians displaced by jihadist attacks around the northern town of Palma from moving to safer areas, Human Rights Watch said Friday.

Most of these people fled their homes when Islamic State-linked militants launched coordinated attacks on Palma on 24 March, killing dozens as they ransacked their way through the port town.

Many of the displaced sought refuge in the nearby village of Quitunda, close to a major gas project around five kilometres (three miles) from Palma, where HRW claims they have been trapped by troops and ongoing fighting.

“Government security forces have imposed restrictions that have prevented tens of thousands from leaving, placing them at risk from fighting and aid shortages,” HRW said in a statement, adding that civilians caught trying to flee were “physically assaulted”.

Mozambique has been grappling with a home-grown insurgency terrorising its gas-rich Cabo Delgado province since 2017.

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The attack on Palma prompted other African countries to deploy troops to back the struggling Mozambique army.

HRW accuses Mozambique of restricting movement around Palma district, making it difficult for humanitarian groups to deliver aid and exposing civilians to renewed militant attacks.

Army officials have defended the measures, claiming jihadists are hiding among civilians and aid workers, according to the watchdog.

“Soldiers didn’t allow us to leave Quitunda, but there is nothing there, no food, no medicine, and the water is dirty,” a 28-year-old man told HRW.

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“I tried to flee Quitunda three times before. Soldiers caught me and whipped me hard,” he added.

Defence ministry spokesman Custodio Massingue told AFP he was “unaware” of the allegations and that government “distances itself from the reports”.

Cabo Delgado’s insurgency has displaced more than 800 000 people.

The violence has killed over 2 800 people, half of them civilians, according to US conflict tracker ACLED.

It has also set back multi-billion-dollar gas exploration projects off the Afungi peninsula.

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