The rapid gains made by Mozambican and Rwandan government forces against Islamic insurgents in the country’s northern Cabo Delgado region is giving new hope to thousands of civilians who have been trapped in the conflict for over a year.
Humanitarian organisations, including United Nations agencies, who had been forced to abandon the strategic town of Mocimba da Praia after insurgents overran it last year, could now return and offer life-saving services. The pull-out left residents without food and medical supplies.
After Rwanda deployed 1,000 soldiers last month, Mozambican government forces started reclaiming territory from the armed group linked to the Islamic State (ISIS). Mocimva da Praia had fallen to the insurgents in August last year, but Mozambican Defence spokesperson Omar Saranga said the joint forces last week took control of government buildings, the port, airport and hospital — important installations in the town.
Mozambican and Rwandan forces are now working on securing surrounding villages, which are still under the control of insurgents, according to Zenaida Machado, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch’s Africa Division. This has paved the way for humanitarian organisations to return to Mocimboa da Praia.
“The government should immediately facilitate rapid and unimpeded humanitarian access to Mocimboa da Praia, meeting obligations as a member state of the Kampala Convention, an African Union treaty on internal displacement, and under international humanitarian law,” she said.
Ms Machado said the Mozambican authorities must move quickly to ensure humanitarian aid reaches local residents, who have been trapped in the town for more than a year.
“The Mozambican government should move quickly to fully secure Mocimboa da Praia town and surrounding villages before residents return to their homes,” said Ms Machada, adding, “Failure to do so could place thousands at risk from further attacks by Al-Shabab and fighting between the group and government forces.”
Besides Rwanda’s firepower, Mozambique’s fight against the Islamists has been bolstered by the arrival of forces of other Southern African Development Community countries.