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Two helicopters and a navy ship shelled the village of Mitumbate 23 and 24 December with at least 50 casualties. The follows the ambush of a riot police (UIR, Unidade de Intervencao Rapida) convoy on 17 December which was going from Mocimboa da Praia to Mitumbate. The UIR national director of reconnaissance was killed in that attack. (O Pais 27 Dec)
Mitambate and the nearby village of Makulo, 28 and 35 km from Mocimboa da Praia, had been attacked on 29 November by an Islamist group. However UIR now considers Mitumbate to be an Islamist base. The town of Mocimboa da Praia was attacked and partly occupied on 5 October.
O Pais (27 Dec) said that there has been on-going fighting in Mocimboa da Praia district and the local hospital reports police and soldiers dead and injured. More than 200 people have been detained but the military complains that the courts are releasing them, and that at least one person released was shot and injured in a subsequent confrontation.
The attacks have caused some nervousness in the gas industry. The Afungi Peninsular which will be the site of the multi-billion dollar gas liquification plants is only 60 km north of Mocimboa da Praia. The site has a 50 km perimeter which must be protected. Mocimboa da Praia is 330 km north of Pemba.
“This war is only happening because the government ignored our warnings”, said Rajabo Rabio, a member of the district consultative council, in a detailed investigation by Savana (15 Dec). He said he was in four meetings in which the government was warned.
Local businessman Faruk Jamal blames continuing poverty and illiteracy pushing people to join the group. The government “is preoccupied with buying airplanes, when it should be thinking about schools for our children. … When we don’t train our children, they will be manipulated.”
For several years there has been an influx of refugees and traders from Tanzania and further north, which included some Islamic preachers who set up new mosques in competition with the existing ones. Savana was told that the mosques preached non-cooperation with the government, including not attending school, and called the traditional preachers “kafir” or unbeliever.
There was also a period in which there were many offers of scholarships to study in Islamic countries of north Africa and Asia, and some returned as fundamentalists and joined the new mosques. Savana reports that some received military training by a former policeman.
The group calls themselves Ansar al-Sunna (Defenders of Tradition, which was also the name of an Iraqi Sunni insurgent group that fought against US troops in 2003-7.) Local people call them “Al-Shabaab”, although they seem to have no direct connection with the Somali group of that name, although there are Somalis in northern Mozambique.
This is not the first such confrontation. In 1975, after independence, the government came into conflict with the Jehovah’s Witnesses religious sect, which also preached non-cooperation with government. Many members had fled to Mozambique from Malawi in the early 1970s, but after independence some were sent to re-education camps or more remote parts of Zambezia province.
By Joseph Hanlon
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