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Catholic group: Mozambique massacre should prompt attention, response

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Women in Pemba await the possible arrival of a boat carrying their relatives evacuated from the town of Palma following a March 24 attack. / Alfredo Zuniga / AFP via Getty Images.

ACI Africa, Apr 1, 2021 / 04:37 am (CNA).

While a recent massacre in Mozambique has drawn headlines internationally, the country has been dealing with violence for years, which has largely gone unacknowledged in the international community, said leaders of a Catholic charity and peace organization present in the country.

Johan Viljoen, director of Denis Hurley Peace Institute (DHPI), which is an entity of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC), said footage and images coming in from the Palma massacre are horrifying.

“There are bodies lying everywhere on the streets and on the beaches; countless bodies of innocent civilians,” Viljoen told ACI Africa, CNA’s sister agency, on March 29.

“What’s happening here is no different from what we used to see in Iraq…unfortunately, the world has all this time been silent about it,” he said.

He lamented that it has taken an attack on foreigners “for the world to finally realize the full extent of the crisis in Mozambique.”

“Whatever the world is seeing now has been going on in Mozambique for years. We have tried to talk about it, but no one cared to listen,” he said. “There is a global uproar now because a handful of foreigners were affected. But this has been going on. More than 3,000 innocent Mozambicans have died in this violence and no one cared.”

Militants seized control of the northern Mozambique port town of Palma last weekend, following a multi-day attack. Hundreds of militants ambushed the town on March 24, attacking shops, banks, and government buildings. They also attacked convoys trying to escape the town.

Dozens of people were killed in the attack, according to local officials, including seven foreigners. Tens of thousands of locals have fled as a result of the insurgency. 

A militant group connected to the Islamic State has been blamed for the attack, which is part of a years-long conflict with Islamist extremist groups in the region. According to the BBC, more than 2,500 people were killed in the fighting since 2017, and 700,000 displaced. 

Palma is home to a billion-dollar natural gas project, making it a strategic target. The Mozambican government had promised to provide security to the French-run Total oil and gas company in the area.

Viljoen maintained that the increasing military involvement from Western countries is only aggravating the situation in Mozambique, where a number of Western powers are pursuing their respective economic interests.

He said the world should listen to the cry of Mozambicans who are suffering both at the hands of the insurgents and of authorities who sometimes wage war against innocent civilians.

“We are equal; foreigners and locals. Every life matters. As a Catholic organization, we believe that we are all created in God’s image,” Viljoen stressed.

DHPI Mozambique Project Manager Lelis Quintanilla said thousands of displaced families have already arrived in the port town of Pemba. Quintanilla’s work includes helping to receive these displaced persons.

“There are approximately 4,000 families arriving tonight at Pemba which makes approximately 20,000 persons, and they are going to be received with hot tea, cookies and water,” Quintanilla told ACI Africa on March 29.

“They will then be taken to the transit area and then assigned somewhere for their temporary housing,” she added.

For many of these people, the shock of fleeing a violent attack in their town is compounded by the uncertainty about friends and family back home.

“What we’ve heard is that there are a lot of people who haven’t gotten any news or heard anything from the rest of their family members, that they haven’t been able to locate them or hear from them,” Quintanilla said.

This article was originally published by CNA’s sister agency, ACI Africa.


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