Day 5 in the rebel siege town of northern Mozambique.Dozens of people were killed

Johannesburg — Rebels work with Mozambique troops to control the strategic northern town of Parma on Sunday for five consecutive days, with reports of dozens of civilians being killed and bodies scattered on the streets. fought. The fate of dozens of foreign energy workers was also unknown.

According to Human Rights Watch, some of the dead were angry. According to local media reports, expatriates’ attempts to escape safely resulted in a large fire that resulted in many deaths.

The battle for Parma highlights the military and humanitarian crisis in this South African country in the Indian Ocean. According to the United Nations, a three-year rebellion by rebels, primarily dissatisfied young Muslim men, killed more than 2,600 people and evacuated an estimated 670,000 people in northern Cabodelgado.

The attack on Parma took place on Wednesday just hours after French energy company Total announced that it would resume work outside the town of a huge natural gas project at Afungi near the northeastern border with Tanzania in Mozambique. started. A previous rebel attack caused Total to suspend work on a project to extract gas from offshore sites in January.

Mozambique troops have fought rebels in several places to regain control of Parma, Defense Ministry spokesman Colonel Omar Salanga said on Sunday in the capital of Maputo.

Hundreds of Parma residents, both local and foreign, have been rescued, he said, adding that the Defense Forces are fighting “to contain terrorist criminal attacks and restore Parma’s normality.”

Most recent communications between Parma and the surrounding area have been blocked by armed groups, although some residents have used satellite phones to send messages.

“(They said) they saw a corpse lying on the street that the gunshots continued. In fact, when we talked to them, the shooting was recorded in the background. , They were telling us that they were running for safety, “Zenaida Machad, head of Human Rights Watch in Mozambique, told The Associated Press.

Many Parma residents have come across the dense tropical forests that surround the town to escape violence. However, hundreds of foreign workers from South Africa, Britain and France gathered at the hotel and soon became the target of rebel attacks.

An estimated 200 Mozambicans and foreign workers have evacuated to Hotel Amarula. On Friday, their band in 17 cars drove to the beach with them, where they wanted help, but the convoy was on fire. Only seven vehicles arrived at the beach, according to local reports and messages sent by survivors.

Seven members of the convoy were killed, a military spokesman confirmed on Sunday.

The beach reportedly remained in rebellion, hindering rescue operations from the air or sea. Hotel Amarula continues to be attacked and it is unknown what happened to the people of the 10 vehicles who did not reach the shore.

The ship, which departed Parma earlier with hundreds of people, arrived in Pemba on Sunday. Pemba is the capital city about 100 miles south.

New rebel violence has questioned the fate of Total’s gas project, one of Africa’s largest private investments. In 2019, we paid a total of nearly $ 4 billion for a 26.5% stake in the project. It was planned to start gas transportation in 2024, but due to the worsening security situation, that goal was unlikely.

Total issued a statement on Saturday saying that recent rebel attacks have “obviously” stopped all operations on the Ahungi Peninsula. None of the Ahungisite staff said they were victims of the attack.

“Total has expressed sympathy and support for the people of Parma, the relatives of the victims, and those affected by the tragic events of the past,” the statement said. “Total trusts the Mozambique government, where public security forces are currently working to regain control of the region.”

Mozambique rebels already own the port town of Mosinboada Praia, 50 km (31 miles) south of Parma, which was occupied in August.

The Mozambique militants, locally known as al-Shabaab, have nothing to do with the jihadist rebels of that name in Somalia. Rebels have been active in Cabodelgado since 2017, but in the past year their attacks have become much more frequent and deadly.

Andrew Meldrum