Portugal will send troops in the first half of April to Mozambique where they will train local troops following an attack by Islamist insurgents on the city of Palma, Lusa’s news agency said on Tuesday, citing a source from the Ministry of Defense.
The Portuguese news agency said a bilateral agreement requiring a total of 60 special forces to Mozambique is being finalized.
Portuguese Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva also told state television channel RTP late Monday that a team of “about 60” soldiers “was getting ready” to be sent to Portugal’s former colony “in the coming weeks”.
The team would “support the Mozambican army in training special forces,” he said.
In a dramatic escalation of an uprising launched in 2017, jihadists last Wednesday attacked the northern city of Palma, located just 10 kilometers from the site of a multi-billion dollar gas project.
On Monday, the IS group claimed to have carried out the three-day raid on military and government targets, saying it had taken control of the city.
The Mozambican government has said dozens of people died during the raid, but the exact toll in the remote northern city was not known.
Survivors arrive in the provincial capital
Palma was almost completely deserted on Monday after the deadly raid, which forced its inhabitants to flee by road, boat or on foot.
It was the largest and closest attack on a multi-billion dollar gas project built on a peninsula just 10 kilometers away, by France’s Total and other energy giants.
Many survivors said they had walked for several days through the forest to seek refuge in Mueda, 180 kilometers south, where they came limping on swollen feet.
Thousands of refugees arrived by boat in Pemba, the provincial capital about 250 kilometers south, according to sources there. According to aid organizations, evacuation awaited up to 10,000 others.
Pemba is already packed with hundreds of thousands of other people displaced by the Islamist uprising, which has rumored nearly 700,000 from their homes across the great province.
The attack forced foreign workers and locals to temporarily seek refuge at a heavily guarded gas plant located on the nearby Afungi Peninsula.
“A significant number of civilians rescued from Palma are also being transported to Afungi’s website, where they are receiving humanitarian and logistical support,” Total revealed in a statement released on Monday.
Helps governments that do not deal with social problems
The insurgents are known locally as al-Shabab, although they are not believed to have links to the Somali jihadist organization by that name.
The US State Department stated earlier this month that the group reportedly promised allegiance to the IS group in April 2018. It appointed its leader Abu Yasir Hassan and declared him a global terrorist.
On Monday, the United States said it was “committed to working with the Mozambican government” to counter terrorism and defeat the IS group.
However, critics have called on the international community to refocus on a counter-terrorism strategy in yet another African country that involves cooperating with and supporting governments that do not support their marginalized citizens.
Mozambique became independent from Portugal in June 1975 after a long war that ended centuries of colonization.
( Jowharwith AFP and REUTERS)