According to an army spokesman and a provincial official, the town in northern Mozambique that was attacked late last month by fighters linked to the ISIL (ISIS) group is now secure after the military killed a large number of fighters and cleared one final area.
On Monday, Commander Chongo Vidigal, the commander in charge of military operations to retake Palma, told state television TVM that the region was now “secure,” but he stopped short of announcing that the army had regained full control.
“The airfield area was the only one we needed to clear and we did that this morning. It’s completely safe,” Vidigal said.
On Monday, Armindo Ngunga, the Cabo Delgado province’s secretary of state, told Reuters that the town of Palma was “under state sovereignty.”
“There was significant loss of human life, infrastructure destroyed. But people are safe now,” Ngunga added.
On March 24, fighters attacked Palma, a coastal town near $60 billion natural gas projects that are expected to change Mozambique’s economy.
According to Mozambique’s government, dozens of people were killed in the attack, and security sources claim clashes were still going on outside the town on Friday.
According to an early government survey, tens of thousands of people have left the town of 75,000 people. More than 11,000 people have fled Palma in recent days, according to the United Nations.
The accounts from Palma have not been independently confirmed by Reuters. After the assault, the majority of the town’s communication channels were cut off.
TVM captured video of a soldier covering a body lying in the street and burning buildings in Palma.
After sources told Reuters on Friday that Total had withdrawn all of its personnel as the fighters appeared to be approaching, Vidigal said the company’s facilities near Palma were being secured.
“The facilities are safe, they are protected,” he said.
On Monday, requests for comment from a Total spokesperson and the Mozambique defense ministry were not immediately returned.
Since 2017, ISIL-affiliated fighters have become more involved in Cabo Delgado, but it is unclear if they have a common goal.
Aid organizations estimate that tens of thousands of people were displaced as a result of the current attack, with many fleeing into dense forest or escaping by sea. However, the full extent of the deaths and displacement is unknown, and several people are still missing.
Survivors have described seeing the bodies of those who died of starvation or exhaustion while attempting to flee.
Thousands of people have flooded into Pemba, the capital of Cabo Delgado, stretching a city already bursting at the seams with people displaced by previous rounds of conflict and a deadly cyclone in 2019.