Picture: 123RF/ZABELIN
Picture: 123RF/ZABELIN

 Maputo — Mozambique suffered the biggest increase in attacks by Islamic militants globally in 2019, with violence centred on the gas-rich Cabo Delgado province, according to a security report.

Islamic State militants started claiming responsibility in June for incidents that began in 2017 and have killed more than 800 people and forced 100,000 to flee their homes. Attacks more than tripled in 2019 from the previous year, according to Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project’s annual report released last week. Afghanistan remained the most affected by skirmishes and clashes also surged in Burkina Faso.

The violence in Mozambique is occurring in the region where companies such as  energy giants Total  and ExxonMobil  are building what will be Africa’s largest-ever energy investments. The liquefied natural gas projects in the far north of the country have largely been unscathed, though a contract worker was killed in 2019. The incident delayed production.

“Mozambique also registered one of the greatest increases in reported fatalities last year, with 438 more fatalities in 2019 than in 2018, or an increase of 197%,”  the report says. “This rise is linked to the worsening insurgency in the northernmost province of Cabo Delgado.”

The frequency of attacks has continued to increase in 2020, and violence is getting closer to the provincial capital of Pemba, according to Tristan Gueret, an analyst at Risk Advisory Group in London.

“The security situation in Cabo Delgado continues to deteriorate,” he said. “Militants have also increased their area of operation further south and inland in the province.”

While the violence probably won’t threaten the viability of nearly $60bn in LNG projects planned, it could complicate logistics. A surge in road ambushes could disrupt transport lines, according to Gueret. There have also been reports of insurgents posing as members of the security forces and setting up fake checkpoints, he said.

“We continue to monitor security developments in the Cabo Delgado region and work closely with the government regarding appropriate safeguards to protect people, operations and facilities,” ExxonMobil spokesperson Todd Spitler said. “The safety and security of our employees, contractors and the people who work and live around our operations is a top priority.”

Total and Mozambique’s defence ministry did not respond to e-mails seeking comment on the attacks.

Flooding that destroyed key bridges has also made conditions more difficult. Damage to bridges connecting Pemba and the Afungi peninsula, where the projects are, means that most cargo is being transported by sea.

Bloomberg 

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