The French group Total evacuated all staff from its gas site in northeast Mozambique, nine days after the jihadist attack in the neighboring city of Palma, and the multibillion-euro project was on Friday at a standstill full.
On March 24, armed groups attacked Palma, a port city of 75,000 inhabitants, killing dozens of civilians, police and soldiers. The carefully prepared raid, launched just a few kilometers from the gas mega-project, on the Afungi peninsula, has been claimed by the Islamic State group.
Total staff evacuated
“Total has taken the decision to evacuate all the staff. At this moment, all the installations are abandoned ”, affirmed Friday a military source. “Total is gone,” confirmed a security source. Rebels have been spotted in recent days near the Total site, according to a security source.
In addition, thousands of people who fled Palma have flocked for nine days to the site on the Afungi peninsula. Despite several evacuations by boat to the port of Pemba, more than 200 km away, the number of displaced people has continued to swell. On Friday, nearly 15,000 people were in the gas concession, several thousand at the very gates of the site.
Armed groups, known locally as Al-Shabab (“the youth” in Arabic), have ravaged the poor but natural gas-rich province of Cabo Delgado, bordering Tanzania, for more than three years.
The gas project is “protected”
Described as a “Fort Apache”, the future gas exploitation, which was to be operational by 2024, is now under the protection of the Mozambican army.
For several days, the soldiers have been trying to retake Palma, which fell into the hands of the rebels on the night of March 26 to 27. Commander Chongo Vidigal, who coordinates the military operation, assured Thursday that the gas project was “protected”.
The French energy giant has not deplored any casualties and the site has not been directly targeted. But work had already been suspended since the end of December following a series of jihadist attacks nearby. Some of the staff had already been evacuated.
On the very day of the attack, the French giant announced the resumption of construction work on the site. According to experts, given the scale of the attack and the preparation required, it seems unlikely that it was linked to this announcement.
In total more than 9,100 people were displaced by the attack, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Of the more than 110,000 living in the Palma area, 40% had already fled violence in other parts of the province, according to the UN.
Already 2,600 dead before the attack on Palma
Many of the people who fled Palma, on fishing boats or on foot, were picked up by the United Nations and NGOs, dehydrated, barefoot and in shock, after several days spent in the bush with nothing to drink or eat.
The NGO Acled already recorded 2,600 dead before the attack on Palma, half of them civilians. The violence is also at the origin of a humanitarian crisis, which risks further worsening, with more than 670,000 people forced to leave their homes, according to the UN.