Mozambique Should Protect Civilians During Insurgent Fight

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A man walks by the main entrance to the city on March 8, 2018 in Mocimboa da Praia, Mozambique.
© 2018 Adrien Barbier/AFP via Getty Images

Mozambique’s authorities should ensure the military takes measures to protect residents as it battles to retake a port that fell to islamist insurgents this week.

The northern Mozambique port town Mocímboa da Praia was attacked Tuesday by members of an Islamic State (also known as ISIS)-affiliated group known locally as Al-Sunna wa Jama’a (ASWJ). By Wednesday, ASWJ had occupied the local port, after defeating army soldiers guarding the infrastructure.

Most of the residents had abandoned villages following previous attacks in March and June, which also forced humanitarian groups to leave Mocímboa da Praia for security reasons. One resident who spoke to me before communication lines to the town were cut Wednesday said insurgents were burning houses and sending people out of the village where the port is located, many of whom sought refuge in the bush. He described an environment of fear and hopelessness after seeing “total destruction” and “bodies of ordinary people and soldiers on the streets”.

On Thursday, the ministers of defense and interior held a press conference in which they said Islamist armed groups had infiltrated the communities, “dressed in civilian clothes,” before invading the port of Mocímboa da Praia, from where they led several attacks against the village. Minister of Defense Jaime Neto also said the insurgent attacks had culminated in destruction, looting, and “assassination of defenseless citizens.”

The authorities should protect the residents of Mocímboa da Praia during the army operations to regain control of the port. They should ensure that people, especially women and children, are protected against violence and degrading treatment. Moreover, measures should be taken to allow humanitarian groups to safely access Mocímboa da Praia to supply food, clothes, and medical supplies to residents.