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Relief as Life Returns to Parts of Northern Mozambique: Catholic Peace Entity

Life slowly returning to Mocimboa da Praia in Northern Mozambique. Credit: Denis Hurley Peace Institute

Photographs taken by Catholic Peace and charity foundation Denis Hurley Peace Institute (DHPI) on various streets of Mocimboa da Praia, a town in Northern Mozambique, suggest that life is returning to the town that has been under the control of insurgents belonging to Al Sunnah wa Jama’ah for months.

The images are of people walking away from tents, carrying their belongings on their heads and backs and others roaming freely on the streets under the watch of armed security officials. Partially burnt buildings can be seen everywhere and a man can be seen examining a damaged Christ’s statue at a ransacked Church.

DHPI which is currently researching the Mozambican insurgency that is in its fifth year captions the images, “With life slowly returning to Mocimboa da Praia, we present a collage of photographs showing what the town looks like after more than five months of occupation by insurgents.”

Reports have indicated that efforts of the Mozambican government, in collaboration with Rwandan soldiers and other officers of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), are beginning to bear fruit in Mozambique’s embattled Cabo Delgado Province where Mocimboa da Praia is located.

In a past report that DHPI shared with ACI Africa, the Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Pemba, Bishop António Juliasse, acknowledged that calm was returning to some parts of Cabo Delgado, but added that conditions had not yet been created for Missionaries to return to their original missions in the Mozambican Province.

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“There is an advance by the military of this joint force of the Rwandans and also accompanied by the Mozambican defense and security force; there is an advance in terms of penetrating the areas that were the only domain of the insurgents, but there is still no guarantee of security, that really those areas are safe,” the Bishop said.

The spokesman for the Diocese of Pemba, Fr. Fonseca Kwiriwi, also informed Agenzia Fides about the new atmosphere and the ongoing problems in the tortured province of Cabo Delgado.

“In general, the situation in Cabo Delgado and in the liberated areas is calm. Unfortunately, however, the attacks are not over, they continue in particular in smaller villages, in areas with low population numbers,” Fr. Fonseca said.

According to the Catholic Priest, smaller villages in the province are constantly being attacked and people continue to live in fear.

“I recently visited some of the areas occupied by terrorists, such as Mocimboa da Praia and some areas in the Mbaú area. These are areas that were under the total control of the terrorists; these two areas in particular are still considered difficult to access and are only accessible to the military and it is still impossible to return. It is an area with dense bushes that is currently not considered free and ready to welcome the population,” the Diocesan spokesman said in the Tuesday, October 5 report by Agenzia Fides.

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He lauded military activities in Cabo Delgado, saying, “The Mozambican army, Rwandan troops and SADC soldiers are deployed in the area. Thanks to the cooperation of these forces, there is an effect that can be considered positive.”

The positive outcome notwithstanding, the Priest expressed concerns that the insurgency may spill over to other places in Mozambique.

“Overall, the joint military action seems to be producing results previously difficult to reach, but we are concerned that the conflict may spread to other areas of the country,” he said, and added, “Looking to regain control of many areas and destroy strategic terrorist bases, as reported by some sources and the government itself, the jihadists are looking for new territories to occupy and thus widen the front line of the conflict.”

According to Fr. Fonseca, Mozambique is still in a state of great alert and is increasing control as evidenced by the strict surveillance of every entry and exit of citizens and, in particular, of people considered suspicious.

“The government is implementing a series of actions aimed precisely at avoiding the territorial expansion of terrorists,” he said.

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A report that DHPI shared with ACI Africa on Wednesday, October 6 further makes reference to the SADC Mission in Mozambique (SAMIM) on the killing of the leader of Al Sunnah wa Jama’ah and the subsequent return of calm in a number of villages in Cabo Delgado.

“A leader of the Al Sunnah wa Jama’ah insurgents has been named as Rajab Awadhi Ndanjile. This was revealed in a statement released by SAMIM, about the offensive launched on the insurgent’s base in Chitama (a district in Cabo Delgado),” officials of DHPI say in their report.

They add, “In the same offensive, SAMIM claim that they successfully neutralized Njandile, also known as Sheikh Dr Njile. The killing of Sheikh Njile, along with 18 other insurgents, is a major blow to the insurgent’s efforts, as he was a well-respected authority among the fighters.”

Ndanjile is believed to be a herbalist who ran a shop in his local village, and used the location as a soapbox to ferment dissatisfaction against the government.

Sheikh Nile was also said to have been involved in the first attacks on the town of Mocimboa da Praia in October 2017, as well as being involved in subsequent attacks on villages, DHPI has reported.

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The leadership of the peace entity of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) notes that the man is also believed to have been behind the abduction of women and children for the purposes of turning them into servants and fighters.