Suspected Islamist insurgents have attacked a convoy of fleeing civilians, including foreign workers, in Mozambique.
- Human Rights Watch says it spoke to people who had seen bodies in the streets and people fleeing as gunshots rang out
- Almost 200 people were hiding in a hotel during the attack
- Mozambique ‘s government said security forces were working to restore order
Security and diplomatic sources said at least one person was killed and a number injured in the latest attacks in the town of Palma in northern Mozambique, which is near international gas projects.
French energy group Total said on Saturday it had postponed the restart of work at its site near Palma, a logistics hub adjacent to gas facilities worth $US60 billion ($78 billion).
The attack on Palma began just hours after Total said on Wednesday it would resume work at its $US20 billion ($26 billion) project after halting operations in January due to security concerns.
Nearly 200 people had been sheltering in the Amarula Palma hotel during the attack, according to three diplomats and one of the organisations with people inside.
They included a Spanish resident and other foreigners who locked themselves in a protected room in the hotel, a Spanish diplomatic source said.
Spain’s foreign ministry confirmed there had been a Spanish citizen in Palma who managed to flee the town.
Before the ambush, rescue efforts had been underway, with at least 20 people flown to safety in helicopters, said Lionel Dyck, who runs Dyck Advisory Group, a South African private security company that works with Mozambique’s government.
On Friday afternoon, some people attempted to escape in a convoy of vehicles but were ambushed just outside the hotel, according to Mr Dyck, two diplomats and the organisations with people inside.
Mr Dyck said his helicopters evacuated more than 20 survivors on Saturday.
Foreign nationals still missing
Mozambique’s government has said security forces are working to restore order in Palma.
The province of Cabo Delgado, where the town is located, has been the target of a simmering Islamist insurgency linked to Islamic State since 2017.
It was not immediately clear how many people, if any, remained in the Amarula Palma hotel on Saturday and how many were missing.
South Africa’s foreign ministry said some of its citizens had been affected by attacks on foreign nationals on Friday.
Cindy Cooke, a South African whose 21-year-old stepson Francois van Niekerk is in Palma, was frantically trying to get information.
His family had not heard from him since Wednesday, though rescuers had been to his location on Saturday and he was not there, she said.
Beheadings have been a hallmark of attacks by the insurgents, whose rebellion is rooted in local issues ranging from poverty and unemployment to perceived corruption and religious discrimination.
Portugal’s foreign ministry said one of its nationals had been injured in the fighting but did not specify the circumstances.
It said in an email the person had since been rescued and its embassy in Maputo was working to identify other Portuguese nationals who needed support.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said it spoke to seven people in Palma before communications were cut on Wednesday.
They described people fleeing as gunshots rang out, bodies in the streets and insurgents firing at both people and buildings, the group said in a statement.