Rwanda has started deploying 1,000-strong forces to Mozambique to help it combat worsening violence in the gas-rich northern Cabo Delgado province.
The announcement came on Friday after the 16-member Southern African Development Community (SADC) approved last month the deployment of joint forces to help Mozambique respond to the nearly four-year-old conflict, which has killed some 3,000 people and displaced almost 800,000, half of whom are children.
The second batch consisting of 600 members of Rwanda Defence Force (RDF) and Rwanda National Police (RNP) took off on Saturday to the Southern African nation to combat insurgents affiliated to the al-Shabaab terrorist group.
Soldiers from Rwanda, which is not a member of SADC, would fight alongside Mozambique’s forces and SADC troops, the Rwandan government said in a statement.
“The Rwandan contingent will support efforts to restore Mozambican state authority by conducting combat and security operations, as well as stabilisation and security-sector reform,” it added.
The Chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC), Moussa Faki Mahamat, on Saturday said the deployment in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado Province will be crucial in fighting insecurity and restoring order.
Last month, the 16-member Southern African Development Community (SADC) approved the deployment of a joint force to help Mozambique respond to the conflict that is concentrated in the northern Cabo Delgado province.
Fighting erupted in October 2017 and thousands civilians, soldiers and insurgents have been killed in the violence.
Rwandan defence forces spokesman Ronald Rwivanga the new force would have deployed in full by Saturday.
He said the Rwandan contingent was made up of members of the police force and troops trained “to deal with terrorism and security-related issues in that northern province”.
Attacks by an armed group known locally as al-Shabab, whose origins, analysts say, are steeped in local political, religious and economic discontent, have steadily increased in the Cabo Delgado province since October 2017.
The sophistication of the attacks has increased, too.
The fighters linked to ISIL (ISIS) have ransacked towns and gained control of key roadways, destroying infrastructure and beheading civilians. In some cases, they have forced locals into their ranks or held them as sex slaves.
Since August 2020, the fighters have been in control of the key port town of Mocimboa da Praia, while in March, they launched a coordinated assault on Palma town, killing dozens and displacing tens of thousands, while also forcing the French energy firm Total to suspend its $20bn LNG project.
Almost 800,000 people have been displaced in Cabo Delgado and the fighting has brought a $20 billion natural gas project led by oil giant Total to a halt.
The militants have launched attacks, and in August 2020 seized the port town of Mocimboa da Praia.
Over fifty people were beheaded by terrorists in the province in April 2020 and a similar number in November 2020.
In September 2020, the ISIL insurgents captured Vamizi Island in the Indian Ocean.
On 24 March 2021, the militants seized Palma, murdering dozens of civilians displacing more than 35,000 of the town’s 75,000 residents.
The decision by SADC concluded months of deliberation within the bloc about what was required to stop an insurgency that threatens to open up southern Africa’s first jihadist front.
Mozambique’s population is mostly Christian, while Cabo Delgado is one of the few provinces with a Muslim majority.