Without giving clear figures on how many were captured so far, Mozambican authorities say they will punish Islamic insurgents terrorising the northern province of Cabo Delgado over the past three years, in a reign of violence that has killed over 1,000 people and created more than 200,000 internally displaced persons.
Speaking on Wednesday, in the capital, Maputo, Mozambique’s President, Filipe Nyusi, said that there was great expectation regarding the exemplary trial and accountability of terrorists who had been arrested.
“We have to continue to fight violence together, holding accountable terrorists who are apprehended and sent to court. Our expectation is that to hold accountable those who carry out such acts, the judiciary must be swift and exemplary in their actions so that the feeling of impunity does not prevail, ” the president said.
He noted, “we want the feeling that in Mozambique criminals are exemplarily punished to prevail.”
Nyusi also asked Mozambicans to keep an eye on the the information made available about the armed violence that had been destroying Cabo Delgado, since October 5, 2017.
“We must also be on the lookout for those who seek in other ways to make believe the macabre attitudes of terrorists, using disinformation to publicly manipulate populations that suffer violence,” said Nyusi.
Mocímboa da Praia a ghost town
The insurgents have increased their determination to conquer territory in northern Mozambique by attacking and occupying for three days the town of Mocimboa da Praia.
Residents told HumAngle that Mocimboa da Praia had been totally destroyed as everything from markets, stores, hospital, secondary school vandalised in what has been described as the most violent attack in the village that has been systematically the target of terrorist attacks since 2017.
“The situation is horrible, the level of destruction is unspeakable. I lost my house. They ransacked everything,” one resident said.
According to the source who does not want to be identified because of fear of attack, the terrorists entered the village on June 27 and remained there for three days.
They came in different ways, by motorcycles, cars and boats, he said.
“The assailants blocked all entrances and exits that go to Pemba, others were on the road that goes to Palma, others by boat. They attacked, kidnaped many girls and boys, took them with them to the bush. Many people fled, the source said.
In the attack on the 27th and 28th of last month, the insurgents, according to a witness account to the newspaper, MozH24, used sophisticated and modern weaponry.
“The SDFs were prepared this time around, they responded accordingly, there was an exchange of fire for a long time. From morning, reinforcements were arriving in Mocímboa da Praia by helicopters from Pemba and other places. Some descended with ropes, like in the movies,” the source said.
“The SDFs circulated in places where they heard gunshots, collected bodies of insurgents who were heaped and burned.
“Gasoline was poured on the dead bodies of the insurgents. Mozambique Security and Defense Forces (SDFs) reportedly killed over 100 terrorists, while sustaining a dozen of losses,” he added.
“Several people were Injured. The wounded rescued from the battlefield arrived at the port of Pemba by sea, among them members of the SDF who were slightly and seriously injured.
“There were 12 in total, four from the Rapid Intervention Unit and eight from the Navy. One of the bodies was that of a colonel or lieutenant colonel in the navy, a native of Maputo,” sources told the paper.
“We saw civilian people beheaded, like a driver named Abuba, he was a driver of Raimundo Pachinuapa of the ruling party, FRELIMO, and the president of the secondary school, also a trader named Mohamed Napepa. They were really beheaded.
“Also in the neighbourhood of Trinta, an old driver named Nhoca was beheaded and then they went on beheading his entire family, wife, children and grandchildren. In total, six people from the same house, another old man, a goat herder, was also beheaded when he left the forest.
“The whole population left Mocímboa da Praia completely desolate. About 200,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) sought refuge in Pemba and other places in Cabo Delgado province as well as in the neighbouring provinces of Nampula and Niassa,” the sources added.
Mocimboa reduced to rubble
Various infrastructure, especially those of the district government of Mocímboa da Praia in Cabo Delgado, were totally destroyed in the armed attack of June 27, said the Mayor, Carlos Momba.
He added that the attack reduced the state and private buildings spared in previous incursions to rubble.
Speaking on a local television station talkshow, Stv’s Manhã Informativa, on Wednesday, Momba revealed that all local government infrastructure were razzed by the insurgents.
“The armed men occupied the village for three days and vandalised everything. No service works. Everything is at a standstill, all the infrastructure have been destroyed and there is no government infrastructure that is working, ” the mayor said.
The attack forced the population to seek refuge in other areas
According to Momba, the displacements continue, although the situation [attack] is under control.
The local government intends to rebuild the village so that it returns to normal, he said.
IDPs cry for help
Meanwhile, the Catholic Bishop of Pemba, the Rev. Luís de Lisboa, said that people who were unable to escape to the woods during the attacks, were still fleeing their hoes everyday with the little possessions they could afford to take.
Those who remain in the village are the elderly because of their weak physical and material conditions, the bishop said.
These forced mass movements of people resulted in the creation of five camps to receive the internally displaced persons and there are just over 20,000 people, among them 11,000 children, he said.
The bishop said the needs of the people were numerous and that it was necessary to reinforce humanitarian aid for them.
“We need more and more help, more and more resources to be able to help. What worries us is the progressive increase in those who arrive and move around,” said Lisboa.
He said there were families who were still sleeping in the open, pointing out that because of the lack of shelter, sometimes up to 15 families shared the same tent and toilet facilities.
These situations can lead to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in the centres, Lisboa said.
The bishop said, “it is difficult, at this time of war, to speak about COVID-19. Unfortunately, COVID-19 is in the background, because first we want to meet the needs of these people.”
He said it was necessary that all forces work together to “safeguard the fundamental right to life. No human being, especially the innocent, deserves to die.”
The trauma, the fear and the feeling of sadness and uncertainty for the victims is another concern.
“I abandoned Mocimboa da Praia in March looking for a safer place to stay. I managed to be lodged in a relative’s home here in Pemba. The conditions are not good, the misery is staggering. We lack basic living conditions, a proper house, foodstuff and access to water,” Aissa Suleimane, a mother of five, told HumAngle on the phone from Pemba.
“We have no-one to turn. We are left hand to mouth, there has been little assitsnce from the government. The little help we get since is from the Church, they have been giving us handouts. That is how we get by.
“The common dominator here is a sense of abandonment by the authorities. Back home we could farm and our husbands could fish. We had enough for our livelihood,” she said.
Aissa said she did not see any respite in future as the violence continued to be fuelled by economic interests in mineral resources and the multibillion dollars gas investments in the province.
“I can’t foresee a brighter day for us with this war.,” she said, adding that the discovery of the resources had been a curse rather than a blessing.
“It is a pity; it won’t benefit us, the population of Cabo Delgado. It is a curse rather than a blessing,” she said.