French energy giant Total has shut its operations and withdrawn all staff from a site in northern Mozambique following last week’s deadly Islamist attack in the area, security sources said on Friday.
“Total has gone,” a security source in Maputo said, adding that “it will be hard to persuade them to return” this year.
A military source added that “all the facilities are abandoned.”
“Total made a decision to evacuate all of its staff,” after drone surveillance showed insurgents were in areas “very close” to the gas plant in Afungi, they said.
Another source confirmed there were reports that insurgents were not far from the site.
Afungi peninsula is only 10km from the town of Palma, which came under attack more than a week ago, resulting in the deaths of dozens of people, including at least two expatriate workers. The brazen assault on Wednesday last week was the latest in a string of more than 830 organized raids by the Islamist militants over the past three years during which more than 2,600 people have died.
Total had already evacuated some staff and suspended construction work in late December last year following a series of violent attacks near its compound, but last week’s raid is seen as the biggest escalation of the Islamist insurgency ravaging Cabo Delgado province since 2017.
Many civilian survivors fled their homes flocking toward the heavily secured gas plant.
An estimated 15,000 people have gathered near the site, while more are still arriving and “security is compromised,” another source said.
The humanitarian “situation continues to deteriorate,” they added.
Total’s clear-out came as Afungi army commander Chongo Vidigal on Thursday declared that the gas project was “protected.”
“We are currently in the special area in Afungi and never had a terrorism threat,” he said. Total did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Most communications were cut after the Palma onslaught began.
Thousands of troops have been deployed to Cabo Delgado, but Mozambique’s ability to fight the insurgency has long been questioned, with analysts pointing to poor training and lack of equipment.
Hundreds, including many foreign workers, have been evacuated by air and sea while thousands of locals walked to safety.
However, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) has temporarily suspended evacuation flights from Palma due to a deterioration in security, a representative for the agency said.
“WFP is concerned about the increasing violence in Cabo Delgado province which is driving increased displacement of populations and leading to a rapid deterioration of the humanitarian situation in the region,” the representative said.
Cabo Delgado’s militants have wreaked havoc across the province with the aim of establishing a caliphate.
The insurgents are affiliated with the Islamic State group, which claimed the Palma attack.
Additional reporting by Reuters
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