Aid has reached Mozambique’s northern coastal town of Palma for the first time since it was overrun by jihadists in March, the United Nations said on Monday, even as beheadings were reported in another area.
Palma – the operational hub of a multi-billion-dollar gas project of France’s TotalEnergies – had been off bounds since it was attacked by Islamic State-linked militants earlier this year.
Dozens of people were killed, some beheaded, and thousands fled through surrounding forests, joining hundreds of thousands already displaced by the violence.
Humanitarian access to the town remained difficult as local troops worked alongside soldiers sent by several other African countries to stem the insurgency.
“For the first time since March, humanitarian aid reached people in Palma,” tweeted the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) in Mozambique, adding that 2 150 families had received emergency food, hygiene and shelter kits.
Many of those displaced from Palma had sought refuge in the nearby village of Quitunda, close to the gas project, where rights groups say they were trapped by troops and ongoing fighting.
WFP’s announcement was made days after suspected militants beheaded five civilians in the village of Namaluco, around 150 kilometres south of Palma, military and local sources told AFP.
The victims were reportedly brewing a traditional alcoholic beverage when they were murdered.
Locally referred to as Al-Shabab, Mozambique’s insurgents have been troubling the gas-rich Cabo Delgado province since 2017 in a bid to establish an Islamist caliphate.
The group grew bolder last year, escalating attacks that culminated with the raid on Palma on 24 March, which forced Total to evacuate its staff and suspend operations.
But they have lost ground since several African countries deployed troops to help overwhelmed local forces.
They suffered a major defeat in August, when Mozambican troops backed by Rwandan soldiers drove them out of their de-facto headquarters in Mocimboa da Praia.