Rwandan President Paul Kagame has arrived in Mozambique, where he has deployed some 1,000 troops to help local security forces fight the fighters wreaking havoc in the north of the country.
Attacks by an armed group known locally as al-Shabab, whose origins analysts say are rooted in local political, religious and economic discontent, have steadily increased in Cabo province. Delgado since October 2017. Violence, including raids on villages and towns, has killed more than 3,306 people – half of them civilians – and displaced at least 800,000 from their homes in the past four years.
In July, Rwanda was the first of several African countries to provide reinforcements to the Mozambican army, beset by the deepening conflict in the gas-rich province. A contingent of forces from the regional bloc, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), is also patrolling northern Cabo Delgado.
Kagame landed in the provincial capital, Pemba, on Friday morning and was received by his Mozambican counterpart, Filipe Nyusi. The two leaders met and addressed the Rwandan troops deployed in the province.
President Nyusi welcomes President Kagame to Pemba, Mozambique for a two-day working visit. The presidents will meet with the Rwandan Joint Forces working with the Mozambican Armed Forces for Defense in Cabo Delgado, followed by face-to-face and bilateral meetings and a press conference. pic.twitter.com/5IgFJMRl8f
– Presidency | Rwanda (@UrugwiroVillage) September 24, 2021
During a joint press conference, Kagame said Rwandan troops would help secure and rebuild areas destroyed by violence.
“The job has not been easy,” Kagame told his soldiers, according to articles posted on the Rwandan presidency’s Twitter account. “You did a great job alongside the Mozambican troops. You sacrificed and endured days and nights under a scorching sun, heavy rains, ”he said.
“The work done so far cannot stop there. We now have another task which is to continue to rebuild and protect this country. “
For his part, Nyusi called the Rwandan troops “true heroes”, adding that “the soldiers of Mozambique are eternally indebted to you and we look forward to continuing to rebuild the lives of our citizens for the better”.
Foreign forces have helped Mozambique regain ground in Cabo Delago since fighters linked to ISIS launched a coordinated assault on the port city of Palma in March, offsetting multibillion-dollar gas projects and causing international concern.
Some local officials have encouraged the return of civilians, media reports, and the Rwandan army spokesman said 25,000 people had been returned to their homes. “It is very safe for them to return,” Ronald Rwivanga told Reuters news agency on Thursday.
But UN officials aren’t so sure.
A document compiled in September for UN agencies and other aid groups, seen by Reuters, said it was not clear whether the fighters’ capacities had been significantly reduced. “Fighting continues in some places and civilian authorities have not been reestablished,” he added.
Al Jazeera’s Malcolm Webb, in a report from an abandoned town of Cabo Delgado, said the remains of what fighters left behind were still visible.
“Many buildings were set on fire, goods from stores were looted, cars were also set on fire,” he added.
“Civilians in this area really fear the combatants of this armed group. They are notorious for beheadings, for kidnappings of people and all the villages we passed along the way are still completely deserted.
Rwivanga said Rwandans brought civilians back to the area they control near a $ 20 billion liquefied natural gas (LNG) project run by oil major TotalEnergies, which was forced to shutdown by the attack on Palma.
Yet security analysts say the Mozambican military shortcomings that allowed the armed campaign to take hold in the north – including ill-equipped, unruly and poorly paid soldiers – will not be easily reversed. Even with other forces there, they say, security is uncertain outside of small, heavily guarded areas.
Mozambican and Rwandan forces won a major victory in August, driving the fighters from their de facto headquarters in the port town of Mocimboa da Praia.
But the violence continued. Local people and security forces recently reported a series of attacks in Quissanga district, south of Mocimba da Praia, where fighters reportedly retreated after the town was taken over. The most recent happened Thursday evening in the village of Lindi.
“Two people were killed and two others injured,” an anonymous police source quoted by AFP news agency said on Friday, adding that the fighters had captured several women and girls.
Fighters also ambushed two buses carrying soldiers later that night, killing at least one, a traffic police officer told AFP. The attack took place on a main road which had been closed for two years due to similar incidents, and which was only recently reopened following the arrival of foreign troops.
In total, at least 10 people have been killed in several villages in Quissanga over the past week, another policeman said. Some of the victims were reportedly beheaded.