MAPUTO – An eyewitness to an attack on the strategic town of Palma in Mozambique by a rebel group on Monday spoke about his escape from the event which killed some of his friends, partners and colleagues.
Rebels fought the Mozambican army on Sunday for the fifth straight day for control of the strategic northern town of Palma, with reports that dozens of civilians had been killed and bodies were littering the streets.
The 50-year-old owner of a transport and logistic company, Ismar Nordino was among the first of those to flee the northern region last week, and arrived in Pemba on Sunday.
Nordino was taken in a ship from Palma to the port of Pemba, where relatives of those still missing wait for news of their loved ones.
The battle for Palma highlights the military and humanitarian crisis in the Southern African nation in the Indian Ocean.
The three-year insurgency of the rebels, who are primarily disaffected young Muslim men, in the northern Cabo Delgado province has taken more than 2,600 lives and displaced an estimated 670,000 people, according to the UN.
The attacks in Palma started last week just hours after the French energy company Total announced that it would resume work outside the town on its huge natural gas project at Afungi, near Mozambique’s northeastern border with Tanzania.
Earlier rebel attacks prompted Total in January to suspend work on the project to extract gas from offshore sites.
The Mozambican army has been fighting the rebels in several locations to regain control of Palma, Col. Omar Saranga, a Ministry of Defence spokesman, said Sunday in the capital of Maputo.
Hundreds of Palma residents, both local and foreign, have been rescued, he said, adding that the defense forces were battling “to contain the criminal attacks of terrorists and restore normality in Palma.”
Most communications in recent days with Palma and the surrounding area have been cut off by the insurgents, although some residents got messages out using satellite phones.
Speaking from Pemba to Portuguese news agency Lusa, Nordino described leaving all of his possessions in his escape, where he ran ‘to the beach, from the beach to a boat and from the boat to a ship in open sea.’
Relatives of those suspected still to be in Palma told Lusa they were questioning whether their loved ones were alive or dead.
“Or did they run away to somewhere that nobody knows?” asked Assumane Gani, who has relatives in Palma, but lost contact with them last Wednesday.