Mozambique government forces reclaim town of Palma month after gunmen took over

Fighters linked to ISIS group that attacked a town in northern Mozambique last month is now secure after the military killed a significant number of fighters and cleared one final area, an army spokesman and a provincial official said.

Commander Chongo Vidigal, leader of military operations to regain control of Palma, told state television TVM on Monday the area was now “safe”, although he stopped short of declaring that the army had regained complete control.

“The airfield area was the only one we needed to clear and we did that this morning. It’s completely safe,” Vidigal said.

Armindo Ngunga, secretary of state for the Cabo Delgado province, told Reuters news agency on Monday that the town of Palma was “under the control of the state”.

“There was significant loss of human life, infrastructure destroyed. But people are safe now,” Ngunga added.

Fighters on March 24 attacked the coastal town of Palma, near natural gas projects worth $60 billion that are meant to transform Mozambique’s economy.

Mozambique’s government says dozens died in the assault, and security sources say clashes continued outside the town as recently as Friday.

Thousands have fled the town of some 75,000 people, according to an early government toll. The United Nations said more than 11,000 civilians fled Palma in recent days.

Experts Doubt Claims

Several experts have expressed doubts over the authorities’ claims to retaking Palma.

“There might be pockets that are safe but they are definitely not in control,” Willem Els, senior training coordinator at the South Africa-based Institute for Security Studies, told AFP news agency.

“Insurgents are still roaming around,” he cautioned, citing sources on the ground. “The only enclave that is really secure at the moment is the area around Afungi.”