Mozambique troops are preparing an operation to recover a strategic port in the northern part of the country that was seized by insurgents three weeks ago, according to sources.
The Mocimboa da Praia, the focus of a scheme to develop the region’s offshore gas wealth was occupied by Islamist militants on August 12 following days of attacks.
A senior military source who asked not to be named as he is not authorized to speak to the media told AFP on Wednesday that the state still has “no control” of the town.
The military’s “priority is taking back” Mocimboa da Praia, another source who was speaking in Palma 60 kilometers north of the port said.
“Steps are already underway to retake the town,” a source in the capital Maputo said on Wednesday.
Locals have reported seeing busloads of soldiers moving northwards towards the port on the highway from Pemba, the capital of Cabo Delgado province.
Authorities claim the jihadists live among the local population and that this situation requires the military to respond carefully.
“Terrorists are mixing with the population and we cannot jeopardize” the public, Interior Minister Amade Miquidade said on Monday during a visit to Pemba by President Filipe Nyusi.
“That is why the actions of the defense and security forces must be finely calibrated so that they cause the least possible damage to communities.”
The loss of Mocimboa da Praia marks the latest step in an intensifying insurgency in the country’s north since 2017 that has killed more than 1,500 people and displaced 250,000.
It was the second time this year that the port — the logistical springboard for the Afungi liquefied natural gas (LNG) project — has been occupied, although the previous event lasted only a day or two.