Palma came under a major attack early this afternoon (Wednesday 24 March), just hours after Total issued a statement saying security had improved enough to "gradually" resume work on the gas liquification plants on the Afungi peninsula.
There were coordinated attacks by several groups, which hit suburbs and a nearby village. Fighting blocked the road from Palma to Afungi. Palma is just 6 km from the airstrip and main gate of the Afungi construction site. Initial reports are that insurgents first attacked the police station on the coastal side of Palma, and then moved into the town and the business park, where they reportedly robbed the BIM and Standard banks. Fighting was also reported near the Amarula Hotel on the northern side of the town. There are both army and police bases in Palma and there has been fighting.
Some civilians and soldiers escaped by boat. Many people fled into the bush.
Mobile telephone service was cut at 16h30 local time, but it is not clear if it was cut by government or insurgents. But that means confirmed information on the attack is limited.
Total had planned to resume construction
After insurgents reached the gates of the construction site for the gas liquification plant on 31 December, Total pulled out its project workforce and halted construction. This morning Total announced that "the Project will progressively resume construction activities at the Afungi site, following the implementation of additional site security measures. Total and the Government of Mozambique have worked together to define and implement an action plan with the objective of reinforcing, in a sustained manner, the security of the Afungi site and of the surrounding area and neighboring villages.
"The Government of Mozambique has declared the area within a 25 km perimeter surrounding the Mozambique LNG Project as a special security area. A comprehensive roadmap, including the reinforcement of the security infrastructure and the strengthening of the public security forces has been defined and implemented, allowing a gradual remobilization of the project workforce and the resumption of LNG plant construction activities as well as community development programs carried out by the project. The control of the special security area around the Afungi site remains ensured exclusively by public security forces assigned by the Mozambican Ministries of Defense and Interior,."
The map shows a 25 km radius circle around Afungi, which clearly includes Palma. There had been attacks just outside that zone, notably in Quionga, but no recent incidents inside the zone.
The division of the war between the Ministries of Defence and Interior continues. Eugenio Mussa was named Chief of Staff of the armed forces and head of operations in Cabo Degado, which changed leadership from Interior and the riot police (UIR) to Defence and the military (FADM). But Mussa died of Covid-19 in February.
On 12 March President Filipe Nyusi named Joaquim Mangrasse as Chief of Staff and head of Cabo Delgado operations. Mangrasse is a naval commander but until his promotion he was head of the presidential guard (Casa Militar) which implies he is close to Nyusi.
Then on 16 March Police Commander Bernardino Rafael announced the creation of a special operations theatre for Afungi, and that this will be under the Ministry of Interior and riot police (UIR), albeit subordinate to Mangrasse. Interior Minister Amade Miquidade swore in police officer António Bachir as the deputy commander of the Afungi theater, taking the operational lead. So it will be the police who have to secure the Afungi perimeter.