2/2 © Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Displaced women sitting on mats in a center for displaced persons in Pemba 2/2
By Emidio Jozine PEMBA (Reuters) – Luisa José, a 52-year-old mother of five, says she came face to face with insurgents linked to the Islamic State when they attacked the central gas city of Palma in northern Mozambique 10 days ago . . “I was running for my life … they were coming from all the streets,” he told Reuters from a stadium in the port city of Pemba that is home to some of the thousands who have fled the violence. “I saw them with bazookas. They were wearing uniforms with red scarves … tied around their heads.” José said the militants quickly invaded his hometown of Palma, located next to huge gas projects worth $ 60 billion. Aid workers believe tens of thousands of people fled the assault, which began on March 24. However, only 9,900 of the displaced had been registered in Pemba and other parts of Cabo Delgado province as of Friday, according to the UN humanitarian agency OCHA. Many may still be hiding in the surrounding forest, said the international aid group Médecins Sans Frontieres, and those who emerged reported seeing the bodies of others who died of starvation or dehydration along the way. Some were also killed by crocodiles or perished in deep mud, according to a contractor whose employee witnessed both. Most communications with Palma were cut off when the attack began and Reuters has not been able to independently verify the eyewitness accounts. A spokesman for Mozambique’s security and defense forces declined to comment on Saturday, while calls to the national police went unanswered. The Cabo Delgado province, where Palma is located, has been home since 2017 to a latent Islamist insurgency now linked to the Islamic State. Clashes between militants and government forces around Palma continued until Friday, security sources told Reuters. The government has said dozens of people died, but the full scale of the victims and displacement remains unclear. José said he spent nearly five days in the bush, eating bitter cassava tubers and drinking from puddles of cloudy water before reaching Quitunda, a village for people relocated by gas megaprojects led by big oil companies like Total. she, Total evacuated her, but had to leave more than six family members behind, including her husband and a daughter, because there was no room on the boat. Total withdrew its entire remaining workforce from the project site near Palma on Friday, two sources with direct knowledge of the site’s operations told Reuters, leaving it to the military. Total declined to comment. José has not heard from his family members since he left them behind. “Are they safe? Do they have shelter? Will they come back? I don’t know,” he said.