A week after the insurgents attacked the district headquarters of Palma, the people of that district continue to arrive in Pemba city, with faces full of fear, sadness and, above all, uncertainty. Although about 9000 displaced people have been accounted for so far, there is information coming from those same displaced people, and also confirmed by the Ministry of National Defense, that there are still people hiding in the fields.
The displaced persons tell how it was on 24 March, a date that will never be erased from their memories. Reports say that rumours had been circulating since the morning of that Wednesday that the Al-Shabaab were going to attack the district. But it was not taken into account because of previous rumours circulating in that district two weeks before the attack, which said that the insurgents were in the fields near the village preparing for an attack. The frequent shootings that already characterised the daily life in the village of Palma, also contributed to these rumours falling into disregard on the part of some people. On the other hand, people placed trust in the Defense and Security Forces (FDS) of Mozambique that seemed to have a heavy presence in Palma.
However, according to reports from the displaced people who actually experienced the attack, at around 4pm the attack began in the village of Maʼguna, 800 meters from the village of Palma, when most of the population of that village fleeing the armed confrontation in Ma’guna, came into Palma. Two shoot-outs started simultaneously in the Quibuidi neighborhood, via Nhica do Rovuma and at the Aerodrome of Palma. At that time, everyone abandoned their homes and possessions and ran for their lives in an uncontrolled way. The insurgents appeared from different parts, and since they use a uniform identical to that worn by our Defense and Security Forces, the only thing that differentiates them are the scarves tied to their heads and their bare feet. It was clearly noted that their initial intention was to destroy the government infrastructure. The only safe area to escape was to the sides of Palma beach but at some point, certain points on the beach also became unsafe.
We heard moving and frightening stories from those who lived that Wednesday under fire and the days that followed. There were several kilometres walked on foot and under fire, with fear, hunger and thirst. Mothers ran carrying their young children on their backs. One of these children was hit by a stray bullet, but luckily it entered the buttock and lodged in the leg. That is the little one, Cadir Fazil, 1 year and 2 months old, born on February 21, 2020.
On Monday, 29 March, due to the fact that the baby was wounded, his mother and aunt were given priority on one of UNHCR’s humanitarian flights and were treated urgently at the provincial hospital in Pemba. There have been situations of despair of men refusing to board humanitarian flights and ships because they were unable to locate their wives and children or any other member of their family; children begging for their parents’ lives and yet, being forced to witness their cruel murders. In spite of all this climate of terror, the class difference did not cease to prevail among the victims of Palma. At the Amarula hotel, where government officials and some foreigners took refuge, a helicopter landed twice, the first time to evacuate the district administrator and the second time to evacuate the owner of the Hotel, leaving behind the various people who only had the option of joining the caravan, which was unfortunately ambushed along the way.
The Quiwia and Quirinde forests are still home to people who struggle for their lives because of hunger and thirst. Every day we received unclear information about events in Palma, as the total break in communications remains in that district still, and it may remain so until the crossfire between insurgents and the military ceases.
After several complaints about the silence of the President of the Republic, he took the opportunity to comment on the matter, at the launch of one of the headquarters of the National Social Security Institute (INSS) in the southern district of Matutuíne, Maputo province, where he made a brief mention of what happened in Palma in a simplistic way, and minimised what happened. From the speech made by His Excellency, the President of the Republic, two questions arose. Firstly, for having stated that there have been worse attacks to Palma and that it was not even very intense, the following two questions remain:
– What was the worst attack that has occurred from 2017 until today?
– Why after the worst attack took place, were there not measures taken to prevent a new attack from occurring?
Another statement by the President that drew attention was when he said that we should not lose focus, that Mozambicans should not be “disturbed”. However, it is revolting to hear this when, in one week, about 9000 people were evacuated from Palma by land, air and sea, many of whom do not know how they will survive, since they have abandoned everything they had in their village of Palma.
– What should these people now be focusing on?
– Is it wrong for these displaced people to be disturbed, after having to focus only on surviving?
We must not forget that there are already about 300,000 displaced people living in transition reception centres and resettlement centres so far.
The first displaced persons of this war are being resettled practically permanently in the surrounding districts of the city of Pemba and now with the attack on Vila de Palma, many more arrive, although proper conditions are still not created for the displaced people of Macomia, Quissanga, Mocimboa da Praia and Muidumbe. Should we not be disturbed when we have no answers for the hundreds of people who arrive in Pemba and other parts of the country, coming from the attacked districts without even knowing if they will ever be able to return?
Should we be undaunted and serene in the face of the massacres that we have been experiencing since 2017?
So, Mr. President, since 2017, we have been ‘disturbed’, since 2017 we have howled and called for an end to the attacks and demanded that concrete measures must be taken, but because perhaps Mr. president has a different focus than ours, so tell us, in desperate situations like this, what should we do to not lose focus?