“The remobilization of the project that was envisaged at the beginning of the week is obviously now suspended,” Total said In a statement Saturday (27 Mar) “Total has decided to reduce to a strict minimum level the workforce on the Afungi site.”
It said nothing about conditions for return, saying only “Total trusts the Government of Mozambique whose public security forces are currently working to take back the control of the area.” This is a polite way of saying that government has to sort out better security before Total will consider returning. That means bringing the Mozambican army up to scratch, or hiring a mercenary army.
Insurgents still in control
As of Monday morning, it appeared that insurgents were still in control of much of the largely empty town of Palma, and skirmishes continue. In the past, in their first attack insurgents have not tried to hold district capitals, and after causing death and damage have drifted away. This will probably happen in Palma in coming days.
There is still no mobile telephone communication, so reports remain confused, coming from people with satellite phones and or who have reached Pemba. It is widely estimated that at least 50 people have been killed.
Fighters came into Palma over several days, some dressed in military and police uniforms, and stayed in supporters’ houses. Other groups came from outside on Wednesday (4 Mar) and Thursday. Three attacks started at 4 pm local time on Wednesday, and they met little resistance. This is the same pattern that was followed in the attacks on Mocimboa da Praia.
Government infrastructure in the town was targeted in a systematic manner, with the local police station and military base overrun and destroyed, while at least two banks were raided. (Guardian, London, MediaFax 29 Mar) Lionel Dyke of the private military company Dyke Advisory Group (DAG) told the BBC (29 Mar) that on the first day insurgents went from house to house killing selected people, and It was initially not indiscriminate killing. But there were attacks on road traffic, including food lorries, which also affected evacuation.
The property company African Century which runs Palma Residences and Business Park evacuated on Saturday 19 staff and 4 customers “under heavy fire”. The Amarula hotel came under siege on Thursday but was initially not attacked. On Friday (not Saturday as stated in the last bulletin) a convoy tried to break out and reach the beach, but was attacked and 7 people were killed. Some others in the compound were rescued by DAG helicopters; others fled on foot to the beach or into the forest. There are totally contradictory reports, some saying no one who remained in the Amarula hotel was killed, and others saying there was an eventual attack and deaths.
Initially rescue operations were unorganised and done by local people. On the day of the attack many local boats – including sailing dhows – took people to nearby islands or to Tanzania, which is closer than Pemba.
DAG helicopters rescued 300 people, Dyke said. Police, army, air force and Total became involved later. People were taken to the beach or to the Total installation on the nearby Afungi peninsula, from which commercial flights were going to Pemba.
Dyke says that the insurgents were using weapons captured from raids on army and police in recent months. But with one exception. For the first time they appeared to using mortars, not used by he Mozambique army, and Dyke suggests they probably came from Tanzania.
Warnings but no plans for Palma Palma has been under siege from several months, with access roads cut. and growing food shortages. Mocimboa da Praia had been cut off in the same way before it was attacked. Thus Palma was an obvious target. In the rainy season it is difficult for everyone to move about, including insurgents. The end of the rains – now – is called the fighting season, and the insurgents attacked Palma.
There seems to have been no military plan to repulse the attack. The large military force inside the Total construction zone to protect it remained there to protect workers and not to repel the attack, only moving outside the Total zone on Sunday. There was some fighting from Thursday, but the insurgents appear to have taken control of Palma without major opposition.
SISE is so preoccupied with pursuing and controlling those who disagree with the government that it has had no time to penetrate the insurgents, and thus the security service SISE was again surprised by the attack, commented Adriano Nuvunga, director of CDD (Centre for Democracy and Development).
Total evacuates staff but takes no responsibility for contractors Total quickly hired a large ferry in Tanzania which overnight Saturday/Sunday took 1200 Total workers to Pemba. The photo shows the arrival.
“Total’s absolute priority is to ensure the safety and security of the people who work on the project. Total confirms there are no victims among the staff employed on the site of the project in Afungi,” it said Saturday. That makes a key distinction.
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Much of the support work is done by contractors, subcontractors, and private businesses like the Amarula Hotel and the man reported missing who was organising a camp to 2000 contract workers. All are in Palma, outside the Afungi fence, and are not Total staff on the site. Some are foreign, but many are Mozambicans from outside Cabo Delgado.
The raid on Palma made clear that there were no plans or systems to evacuate contract staff in the event of an attack, and Total only took responsibility only for their own staff. There were social media reports (unconfirmed) about Total initially not allowing some contract staff into the Afungi secure zone. DAG helicopter rescues were curtailed because Total has a policy against supplying fuel to private military companies.
So contract workers and companies were left on their own – and are angry. They feel Total had some responsibility to them.
ISIS claimed credit for the attack, in a very general 28 March statement. In a statement issued on official media channels, ISIS claimed insurgents killed more than 55 members of local security forces and Christians, including those from “Crusader nations”, and destroyed official buildings and banks. The statement is very general and seems based on media reports.