Mozambique: SADC agrees to deploy regional troops to repel insurgency

A woman is comforted by friends after a ship carrying more than 1,000 people fleeing an attack claimed by Islamic State-linked insurgents on the town of Palma, docks in Pemba, Mozambique, April 1, 2021. (REUTERS/Emidio Jozine)

Southern African leaders have agreed to deploy forces to help quell a jihadist insurgency in northern Mozambique, but no details have yet been given on the region’s intervention.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC), whose leaders met in Maputo on Wednesday, had “approved” a plan to send in the region’s forces, the bloc’s executive secretary Stergomena Tax said at the end of the one day summit.

“Summit endorsed the recommendation of the report of the Chairperson of the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation and approved the mandate for the SADC Standby Force Mission to the Republic of Mozambique, to be deployed under the SADC Standby Force in support of Mozambique to combat terrorism and acts of violent extremism in Cabo Delgado,” Tax said.

She gave no details of the size of the deployment or details of when the deployment will start.

However, a document leaked earlier this year recommended sending around 3,000 soldiers to Cabo Delgado province, where insurgents have seized control of towns and villages, forcing hundreds of thousands to flee their homes.

The leaked document followed the deployment of a technical team by the region to assess Mozambique’s needs.

“The evaluation team proposes the immediate deployment of a SADC alert force to assist the FADM [Armed Forces for the Defense of Mozambique] in combating the threat of terrorism and acts of violent extremism in Cabo Delgado,” read the document.

The majority of the SADC military would consist of 1,860 elements from three light infantry battalions, followed by 140 elements from two special forces units and 120 from a communications team.

The sectors of military engineering and logistics units will be composed of 100 staff, each, with the remaining areas being responsible for the other elements.

Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi has previously appeared reluctant to allow foreign intervention.

“We know in which areas we need support and which areas are up to us, Mozambicans, to solve,” Nyusi said in April, ahead of a SADC meeting.

But speaking at the opening of the summit on Wednesday, Nyusi said SADC must lead any intervention.

“We are certain that we will have SADC as an active and main player in this fight,” Nyusi said.

Outside SADC, Nyusi has held several bilateral meetings to seek support. The Mozambican president met with his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, as well as the European Union president.

A European Union military mission to support and train up Mozambican troops could be approved next month, Portugal’s foreign minister said on Wednesday. Portugal, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency until the end of the month, has already sent 60 soldiers to Mozambique to train local troops.

Nyusi’s proposal, at a meeting in May, to rope in Rwandan President Paul Kagame was met with resistance by other southern African leaders, reports said.

The violence has escalated in the gas-rich north of Mozambique since breaking out in late 2017 and there are fears it could spill over into neighbouring countries.

On March 24, Islamic State-linked militants launched coordinated attacks on the northern town of Palma, ransacking buildings and murdering residents as thousands fled into the surrounding forests.

The assault marked an intensification of violence and has driven over 900,000 people from their homes, according to the United Nations, and claimed the lives of more than 2,800 people.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa attended the meeting, together with the leaders of Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eswatini, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, and Tanzania.

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