© Reuters. Officials stand guard as a ship carrying more than 1,000 people fleeing an attack on the town of Palma, docks in Pemba
By Emma Rumney and David Lewis
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – French energy major Total has withdrawn all its staff from its Afungi project site in northern Mozambique, two sources with direct knowledge of the site’s operations told Reuters, as clashes between Islamic State-linked insurgents and the Mozambican army continue.
Total, which last week called off the planned resumption of construction at the $20 billion development due to the violence, declined immediate comment when contacted by Reuters.
Mozambique’s government has confirmed dozens of deaths in the assault by Islamist militants that began last week in the coastal town of Palma, in a district near gas projects worth tens of billions of dollars that are meant to transform Mozambique’s economy.
The situation around Palma is still highly volatile, with insurgents staging attacks on two security posts south of the town on Thursday, a source involved in providing support for humanitarian organisations on the ground told Reuters.
A spokesman for Mozambique’s military was quoted by a local radio station as saying Total’s Afungi site was beyond the reach of the militants.
“It is protected, … at no time was its integrity at stake,” Radio Mozambique cited army spokesman Chongo Vidigal as saying. The radio station added in its report published late on Thursday that the area around the Total project was being patrolled day and night to repel any threat.
Mozambique’s defence ministry did not respond to a Reuters request for comment.
Aid groups believe the attack displaced tens of thousands of people, many of whom fled to safety in dense forest areas nearby or by boat.
Reuters has not been able to independently verify the accounts from Palma. Most means of communication were cut off after the attack began on March 24.
Islamic State-linked insurgents have been increasingly active in the surrounding province of Cabo Delgado since 2017, although it is unclear whether they have a unified aim or what specifically they are fighting for.
At least 9,150 people have fled to other districts of Cabo Delgado during the latest violence, with thousands more believed displaced within the Palma district, the United Nations said on Friday.
“The new wave of displacement has uprooted many people who had fled their places of origin due to the conflict in other parts of Cabo Delgado and had been seeking shelter in Palma,” it said, adding the majority of those displaced were being accommodated by host families.
Total’s project is among energy developments worth a combined $60 billion that would revolutionise Mozambique’s $15 billion economy.
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