JOHANNESBURG – A joint force of Mozambican and Rwandan troops has regained control of a strategic port from Islamic extremists who held the town in northern Mozambique for a year, the countries’ defense ministries have announced.
The retaking of Mocimboa da Praia is a notable success for the 1,000-strong Rwandan force that deployed to Mozambique last month.
Rwanda’s troops have rapidly helped Mozambique’s armed forces achieve victories against the insurgents, who have created a humanitarian emergency in northern Cabo Delgado province and surrounding areas. Before the Rwandan forces arrived, Mozambique’s military and police had not succeeded in stemming the insurgents' offensives.
More than 3,000 Mozambicans have been killed and 800,000 people displaced by the four-year insurgency. Nearly 1 million people need urgent food aid as a result of the conflict, according to the U.N. World Food Program.
Earlier this year the insurgents, loosely allied to the Islamic State group, forced the French energy firm Total to pull out of its $20 billion liquified natural gas project near Palma, further north on the Indian Ocean coastline. Mozambican media report that the financing for the Rwandan troops’ mission in Mozambique is coming from France.
The joint operations between Mozambican and Rwandan forces have succeeded in forcing the insurgents to retreat “from the zones where they have exerted relative influence,” Mozambican colonel Omar Saranga told a press conference on Sunday.
The joint force has taken control of public and private buildings in Mocímboa da Praia including local government offices, the port, the airport, the hospital, markets and restaurants, Saranga said. The port is key to transporting supplies to other parts of Cabo Delgado province, including the liquified natural gas project.
After employing a private military company, Dyck Advisory Group, last year, Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi is now accepting assistance from other African governments. In addition to the Rwandans, a regional force from the Southern African Development Community officially starts operations on Monday.
That military mission will be based in Pemba, the provincial capital. On Monday, Nyusi and Botswanan President Mokgweetsi Masisi are to inspect troops from South Africa, Botswana, Angola, Lesotho and Tanzania. Zimbabwe has also sent troops but only to help train Mozambique’s armed forces, not to take part in combat operations, according to the Zimbabwean government.
Shortly before the Rwandans' deployment was announced, and after a meeting between Nyusi and Rwandan President Paul Kagame, a Rwandan dissident living as a refugee in Mozambique was abducted, apparently by police. An association of Rwandan refugees in Mozambique believes that the man, journalist Cassien Ntamuhanga, has been handed over to Rwandan authorities.
Bowker contributed from Belgrade, Serbia.