An official said Palma was “ under state control ” after being attacked by fighters linked to ISIL, but experts doubt.
The northern Mozambique town that ISIS-linked fighters (ISIS) attacked late last month is now safe after the military killed an significant number fighters and cleared a final area, said an army spokesman and a provincial official.
Commander Chongo Vidigal, chief of military operations to regain control of Palma, told state television TVM on Monday that the area was now “safe”, although he did not say the military had regained full control.
“The airfield area was the only one we needed to clean up and we did that this morning. It’s completely safe, ”Vidigal said.
Armindo Ngunga, secretary of state for the province of Cabo Delgado, told Reuters news agency on Monday that the city of Palma was “under state control”.
“There has been significant loss of human life, destroyed infrastructure. But people are safe now, ”Ngunga added.
On March 24, fighters attacked the coastal city of Palma, near $ 60 billion natural gas projects intended to transform Mozambique’s economy.
The government of Mozambique says dozens died in the assault, and security sources say clashes continued outside the city as recently as Friday.
Thousands of people have fled the city of about 75,000 residents, according to an early government toll. The United Nations said more than 11,000 civilians had fled Palma in recent days.
Reuters was unable to independently verify Palma’s accounts. Most of the means of communication with the city were cut off after the start of the attack.
Images taken by TVM in Palma showed a soldier covering a body lying in the street and setting buildings on fire.
Vidigal said the facilities of French energy company Total near Palma were protected, after sources told Reuters on Friday that Total had withdrawn all of its staff as fighters appeared to approach.
“The facilities are safe, they are protected,” he said.
A spokesperson for Total and Mozambique’s defense ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Monday.
Fighters linked to ISIS have been increasingly active in Cabo Delgado since 2017, although it is not known whether they have a unified goal.
Aid groups estimate that the latest attack displaced tens of thousands of people, many of whom fled into dense forest or escaped by boat. But the scale of the deaths and displacement is not yet clear and many of them have still not been taken into account.
Survivors said they saw the bodies of other people who died from starvation or dehydration while trying to escape.
Thousands of people have flocked to the capital of Cabo Delgado, Pemba, expanding a town already filled with people displaced by previous rounds of violence as well as a deadly cyclone in 2019.
Only security “ pockets ”
Several experts have expressed doubts about the authorities’ claims to take back Palma.
“There may be safe pockets, but they are definitely not under control,” Willem Els, senior training coordinator at the South Africa-based Institute for Security Studies, told the news agency. AFP.
“The insurgents are still wandering,” he warned, citing sources on the ground. “The only truly secure enclave at the moment is the area around Afungi.”
Security forces have been beefed up by a private South African military company, Dyck Advisory Group (DAG), but its contract with the government ends this week.
DAG founder Lionel Dyck confirmed their involvement ended on Tuesday.
“God help the people,” he told AFP on Monday via WhatsApp, adding that it was “unlikely” that soldiers had taken over Palma.