Mozambican soldiers have launched an offensive to repel insurgents from the northern town of Palma, the hub of a giant gas project, a day after it came under attack, the defence ministry said Thursday.
Jihadist militants raided the coastal town on Wednesday afternoon, forcing terrified residents to flee into surrounding forest.
The attack came shortly after French oil giant Total announced plans to resume construction at the nearby site of a $20-billion (16.9-billion-euro) offshore gas project.
Defence ministry spokesman Omar Saranga said Mozambique’s security forces (SDS) were “pursuing the enemy’s movement” and working “tirelessly to restore security and order.”
“SDS will do everything to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the population… while continuing to guarantee the protection of economic projects,” he told reporters in the capital Maputo.
Saranga said the number of any casualties and extent of damage was not yet known, adding that mobile communications with the area had been “interrupted”.
Palma is located more than 1,800 kilometres (1,118 miles) northeast of Maputo, in the gas-rich Cabo Delgado province, where authorities have grappled with a brutal insurgency since 2017.
Militants affiliated to the so-called Islamic State group have raided villages and towns across the province, causing hundreds of thousands to flee their homes.
The violence has killed at least 2,600 people, half of them civilians, according to the US-based data collecting agency Armed Conflict Location and Event Data (ACLED).
Amnesty International this month said local people were “caught” between militants on one side and government security forces and a private militia on the other.
The watchdog accused all three parties of “war crimes” causing hundreds of civilian deaths.
The insurgency has also rocked the development of Africa’s largest liquified natural gas (LNG) project off the Afungi peninsula, due to go online in 2024.
Total is the project’s main investor, with a 26.5-percent stake.
Six other international businesses are also involved, including Italy’s Eni and US major ExxonMobil.
Total had earlier on Wednesday announced that it would “progressively resume” construction at the site “following the implementation of additional site security measures”.
The company was forced to evacuate some staff in January after jihadists launched a series of attacks just kilometres from the LNG site. AFP