A town in northern Mozambique near major LNG construction works has been seized by Islamist militants, according to local reports.
Attackers are said to have overrun Mocimboa da Praia early this morning, raising flags and erecting barricades.
Trouble has been growing in Cabo Delgado Province for years, with the area seen as neglected and overlooked by the central government.
Total is leading the Mozambique LNG project, which reached final investment decision (FID) in June 2019, while ExxonMobil is working on Rovuma LNG. The latter had been expected to be approved early this year but it is understood this has been pushed back in response to the oil price crash and coronavirus.
It is unclear how many people may have died in this morning’s attack. A number of prisoners are reported to have been set free. Reports last week said 85 men had been captured and were suspected of aiding the insurgency, either through providing cash or through active participation in violence.
Mocimboa da Praia has played a role in supplying goods to the gas works in the north. Roads in the area are inadequate for large loads so goods are put onto vessels at the shallow-water Mocimboa da Praia port and taken onwards to the Afungi LNG Park.
International Crisis Group reported a number of attacks in February in Cabo Delgado, including in the areas around Mocimboa da Praia. Islamic State (IS), which has been linked to the violence although inconclusively, has said that 17 soldiers were killed in one attack.
The majors working in the area have called for more assistance from the government to tackle the militancy. Russian mercenaries the Wagner Group are said to be in the area, working for the government, but they appear to have struggled to come to terms with an enemy that knows the local environment.
Mozambique President Filipe Nyusi has called for international support in the area, while also restricting the flow of information. Nyusi has also changed his tone on negotiations with the insurgents, appearing to open the way for talks.