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The Mozambican defence and security forces on Friday night captured three alleged members of the terrorist group that has been burning villages and murdering villagers in the northern province of Cabo Delgado.
According to Radio Mozambique, Interior Minister Basilio Monteiro announced the arrests on Saturday at a meeting with residents of Namaluco village in Quissanga district. This village was attacked on Wednesday night: seven people were killed and 220 houses were destroyed.
Monteiro said that two of the terrorists were arrested on Ibo island, and the third in Olumbi in Palma district. The report did not indicate how the men were identified, or suggest why two of them had left the mainland.
In his meeting with the Namaluco residents, Monteiro pledged that the government will work to ensure that no more villages are attacked.
“What we want to do is ensure that no more villages are burnt down”, he said. “What we want to do is ensure that no more people suffer violence. We are sure we will succeed because we are counting on your collaboration”.
The Minister may have come too late. For most of the villagers have already abandoned Namaluco, and the few who were in Monteiro’s audience said they too felt unsafe and intend to leave the area.
Monteiro urged them to stay, and promised them better security conditions. “We will not stop sending soldiers here”, he said. “Our duty, as a state, is to place policemen and soldiers to protect the population”.
He also pledged that, as from Sunday, members of the defence and security forces will help the people of the attacked villages to rebuild their homes.
Monteiro has also set up an “operational command”, headed by high ranking officers, to take control of the situation in Quissanga and the neighbouring district of Macomia. This operational command began its work as from zero hours on Saturday, said Monteiro, and its purpose is to restore order and normality.
The decision to form this special command, he added, arose from an analysis of the situation on the ground, in which some “lines of weakness” were identified.
He promised a relentless pursuit of the terrorists, who are referred to locally as “Al-Shabaab”, although the authorities remain reluctant to refer to them as Islamic extremists.
“Our presence as a defence and security force is precisely this – it is to pursue them to exhaustion”, he said. “We shall find them and we shall free Mucojo, Quiterajo, Quissanga and any other point in Cabo Delgado province of the actions of these criminals”.
People from the areas attacked are now making their way by boat to Ibo and other islands off the Cabo Delgado coast – though, if Monteiro is to be believed, some of the extremists have done likewise.
According to the Zitamar News Agency, people fleeing from Macomia and Quissanga are also arriving in the Cabo Delgado provincial capital, Pemba.
The agency also reported that the American oil and gas company, Anadarko, has suspended its construction activities in Palma district, where it intends to build natural gas liquefaction plants. It has also confined all its foreign staff to company camps.
Palma was the scene of particularly gruesome attacks on 27 May, when the islamists attacked the 25th June and Monjane villages and beheaded ten people.
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