Insurgents use rains for rapid move south, again reaching Nampula

Panic in Chiure

In this issueThe war+ Insurgents moving to Nampula+ Panic and Rwandans in Chiure+ Brutal fighting and misconduct in Mucojo+ Raids near Mocimboa da Praia town=============================Insurgents use rains for rapid move south, again reaching NampulaInsurgents have strengthened their dominance of southern Mocimboa da Praia and parts of Macomia districts, and have marched, largely unchallenged, 200 km south into Nampula province, during the past two months. And the insurgents seem to have total freedom of movement.The French foreign ministry last week (15 February) “strongly recommend its citizens not to travel to Mocimboa da Praia, Pemba and Palma, as well as on the roads linking these locations.” It continued that travel to the entire province of Cabo Delgado and four districts of Nampula province – Mecuburi, Erati, Memba, and Nacarôa – is not recommended.Insurgents have partially adopted a new strategy. Except in military confrontations, they are killing fewer people and burning fewer houses, and in some places trying to win hearts and minds of local people, especially those who profess Islam. On the roads the insurgents don’t set fire to vehicles, but charge a toll.The insurgents have clearly regrouped since their Mozambican leader Bonomade Machude Omar was killed in August last year. And they are making use of the rainy season; torrential rains are causing flooding and make many roads impassable for vehicles. Rain and cloud makes flying difficult and there are few helicopters in operation. The Southern African force (SAMIM – SADC Mission in Mozambique) will withdraw in July and is already being run down. EU and US training has not yet done much to improve motivation and competence and reduce misconduct of Mozambican forces.Rwandan forces are maintaining security in the gas zones – Palma district with the gas development base on the Afungi peninsula, Mocimboa da Praia town, and the northern part of Mocimboa da Praia district. Tanzanian troops appear to have pushed insurgents our of Nangade district on the Rovuma river border. So the insurgents are moving south.Panic in Chiurewalking south from Chiure.png
As insurgents move unchallenged westward across Chiure district on the southern edge of Cabo Delgado, people have been fleeing both into and out of Chiure town. Mayor Alicora Tuntunha told STV yesterday (21 Feb) that the city is full of refugees fleeing the insurgent advance. Some have family links and houses how have five or six families. Many others without local contacts are simply wandering around the streets. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) reported that by 16 February, 2,046 refugees had arrived in ChiureAs refugees arrive many people are also fleeing Chiure town going north on the N1 main road 30 km to Metoro and toward Pemba, or south 35 km on the N1 to cross the Lurio river to Nampula province. Videos are circulating of hundreds of people fleeing Chiure and walking south to Nampula province. The photo above is from a video posted by a truck driver going south from Chiure on Tuesday (20 Feb). Rains later on Tuesday made the trek more miserable.The provincial government of Nampula province has opened a reception centre in Erati for refugees from Chiure. As at yesterday morning (21 Feb), 13,640 people had registered, said the Erati district administrator, Manuel Salimo Manussa. Zitamar reports that the flow of displaced people moving across the Lúrio river has largely stopped today.President Nyusi and Rwandans involvedThe seriousness of the crisis is shown by President Filipe Nyusi making an unexpected visit yesterday (21 Feb) to Pemba in response to the surge in insurgent activity.On Tuesday night insurgents crossed the N1 at Ocua, south of Chiure town and close to Nampula. Insurgents burned a fuel truck and had a confrontation with security forces. The insurgents probably intend to cross the river at Ocua to get to Nampula, as they did in 2022. Speaking to reporters after a meeting with the provincial government, Nyusi said that Rwandan troops had joined with Mozambican troops in the confrontation near Ocua. This is the first time the Rwandans have gone this far from their normal two districts of Palma and Mocimboa da Praia, and shows just how worried the government has become.Comment: As we note below, insurgents marched south for more than a month, with their movements widely covered in the press. Yet Ocua Tuesday was only their second confrontation with the military, and that required the help of the Rwandan hired soldiers. The military have had a year of training from the US and the EU, and a still unable to challenge the insurgency. This war could go on indefinitely. jhMoving south to NampulaThe move south began in mid-January and has been largely unchallenged. Insurgents began moving though Quissanga district in 19 January and were near the district town four days later. Administrator Sidonio Jose told O Pais that they met with the local population and then moved on without causing any harm. They continued south through Metuge district, which is north and west of the provincial capital Pemba. On 27 and 28 January they went into Pulo and Nicavaco villages and killed four people. They moved south into Mecufi district and were seen crossing the main N1 road at Nanilia on 30 January. This is just 25 km from Pemba.On 31 January the insurgents entered the nearby village of Naminaue. These is a close military base and an army group combined with local militia was sent. But it was ambushed by the insurgents. Between three and eight soldiers and militia members were killed and four vehicles destroyed. Islamic State Mozambique has published pictures of its ambush which show two burned military vehicles, captured weapons and ammunition, and the bodies of seven slain soldiers.The insurgents then moved south, passing peacefully through villages and staying overnight in at least one village. They then appear to have divided into two groups. One moved southeast and through Mecufi district. On 10 February these insurgents crossed the Lurio river into Memba district of Nampula province and stayed the night in Sirissa village.The other group, estimated at 200 insurgents, crossed the Megaruma river on 3 February into Chiure district. On 9 February they attacked Nacoja village and burned a church.On Monday 12 February at about 17.00 they entered Mazeze administrative town. The local military contingent had already fled to Chiure Velho, 20 km to the west, leaving the town unprotected. Most residents also fled. But insurgents talked to the remaining local people telling them to be good Muslims. The burned or shot up a Roman Catholic church and the priests house, a market, and the house of the post administrator. Priests had already been evacuated from Chiure district and moved to Pemba.On Saturday 17 February insurgents went into Magaia village and reportedly killed 4 people and burned a school.Many Mazeze residents who had run to Chiure Velho, fled again to Chiure town after reports that the insurgents were also moving west and had reached the village of Namitil, just 7 km from Chiure town. Many people tried to flee south to Nampula province, but it appears that the insurgents had have the same idea, and some have gone south from Chiure Velho toward the Lurio river border with Nampula. (Sources: Lusa, Carta de Moçambique, Mediafax, AIM, Zitamar, Cabo Ligado, Focus Group, OIM-DTM, VOA, O Pais)
CDg southest map 21Feb24.pngCommentThe insurgents followed the same round into Nampula as they did in September 2022, which is a corridor not sympathetic to the government. The Chiure-Mecufi border zone was occupied by Renamo in the 1980s and Chiure town now has a Renamo mayor. Memba district of Nampula had one of the recent “cholera riots”, which are really attacks of government officials disliked by local people. The coastal zone is largely Muslim and distrusting of Frelimo, and the main reason for the insurgent move into Nampula is to recruit guerrillas. jhInsurgents consolidate their zonesThe war never stopped, but it did slow down. But from late December attacks and incidents increased. Insurgents control two linked small zones. One is along the Messalo river 50 km from the sea to Chai, which is an area of impenetrable jungle, called the Catupa Forest. North of the Messalo is Mocimboa da Praia district and south of the river is Macomia district. The other insurgent controlled zones is the coastal zone of Macomia district, about 60 km long and 40 km wide, and is connected to the Messalo river forest. Geographically, this is a small war.  From mid December, just before the rains, insurgents re-opened three fronts: first on the Macomia coast, second the N380 road with Chai town and Muidumbe district. These control the main transport channels, the N380 and coastal shipping, and have a major impact on the natural gas projects further north.The N380 is the only paved road from Pemba north to Mueda and to Mocimboa da Praia and now the Afungi gas project, so all important traffic passes through Chai which is a historic pinch point, near the N380 bridge over the Messalo. It is where Alberto Chipande fired the first shots of the independence war on 25 September 1964. Macomia town on the N380 is 50 km south of Chai. The coastal town of Mucojo is key to controlling coastal shipping.The third front is attacks close of Mocimboa da Praia town, to challenge Rwandan and Mozambican government claims that this zone is peaceful.Brutal fighting and military misconduct along the Macomia coastBy far the bloodiest and most brutal fighting in the past two months has been along the coast of Macomia district. The key coastal town of Mucojo has changed hands six times. Insurgents killed 25 soldiers and the Mozambican navy is accused to killing more than 40 fishermen.In December, the army deployed soldiers in Mucojo and nearby Pangange on the beach, and those villages were attacked by insurgents on 26 and 27 December. In Mucojo the solders abandoned their position, but in Pangane they defended their base, and apparently reoccupied Mucojo. But government soldiers executed three young men in different villages around Mucojo 9-11 January, which caused anger in the village. On 13 January insurgents retook Pangane and warned the army it would be punished for killing the three civilians and insurgents would launch an attack. The army abandoned Mucojo and it was re-occupied by insurgents on 21 January. With better access to the sea, insurgents moved by boat to coastal villages preaching and warning of the danger of “aiding infidels”. Insurgents also took all the food from the barracks. (Cabo Ligado 8-21 January, Carta de Moçambique 15 Jan, VoA 22 Jan, Focus Group 13 Dec-17 Jan).For the first time, in Mucojo a strict interpretation of Islamic law was imposed, including the banning of certain haircuts, the sale of alcohol, and tight or tapered trousers. Meanwhile, daily prayers and attendance at mosques were encouraged. But this had already been an issue with local militant preachers banning the sale of alcohol.Insurgents withdrew and the army retook Mucojo without a fight on 31 January. An estimated 150 insurgents responded with a large attack on the night of 9-10 February. They arrived by boat and captured the base, killing 25 soldiers – one of the largest government losses in one battle in recent war. Macomia district administrator, Tomas Badae, confirmed the death toll. It is believed the insurgents still hold Mucojo.Local people are complaining of Mozambique defence force atrocities, while soldiers are also complaining of lack of food, and the sale of their food by their commanders.