MAPUTO (AFP) – Extremist militants have seized control of a town in northern Mozambique, killing several people including at least one foreign worker, and forcing France’s Total to suspend operations at a huge gas project.
Militants began the attack on the town of Palma in the northern province of Cabo Delgado on Wednesday, forcing nearly 200 people including foreign gas workers to evacuate a hotel where they had taken refuge, security sources said on Saturday.
The assault came shortly after Total announced it would gradually resume work in the area, which had been suspended following earlier attacks.
Local media reported at least seven workers were killed in the latest violence, including a South African.
None of Total staff were killed in the incident but the “re-mobilisation of the project that was envisaged at the beginning of the week” was suspended, the company said in a statement.
Speaking on the phone late Friday, after he was evacuated to Afungi, one worker said most of the town had been destroyed and “many people are dead”.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said witnesses had spoken of seeing “bodies on the streets and residents fleeing after the… fighters fired indiscriminately at people and buildings”.
The Mozambique government has not given an update of the attack since last Thursday.
Total said it was trusted the Mozambican security forces who were working to take back control of the area.
The militant attack on Palma, a coastal town of 75,000 people, is the closest yet to the major gas project during a three-year extremist insurgency across Mozambique’s north.
Gas exports from the site are not expected until 2024 at the earliest.
“Government forces have withdrawn from Palma so the town has been taken,” one security source said.
Another source confirmed militants had taken the town though fighting in the area was ongoing.
Palma is about 10 kilometres from the liquefied natural gas (LNG) project located on the Afungi peninsula on the Indian Ocean coast near the Tanzania border.
Extremist militants staged the surprise raid, sending terrified residents into nearby forests, while gas and government workers sought shelter at the hotel.
Defence ministry spokesman Omar Saranga declined to comment, only urging people to “remain calm and follow the rescue instructions given by the authorities”.
Around 80 people were taken away from the hotel in military trucks on Friday, but some of the vehicles were ambushed, an official from a private security firm involved in the rescue operation, said.