HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Southern Africa’s leaders are meeting in the Mozambican capital of Maputo Monday to discuss ways to help fight the Islamist extremist rebels who have killed thousands of people and displaced tens of thousands in Mozambique’s gas-rich north.
The extremist rebels have held the strategic port of Mocimboa da Praia since August and recently they beheaded about 50 people in nearby towns in Cabo Delgado province, according to local reports.
Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa flew from Harare to meet with the leaders of South Africa and Botswana, at the invitation of Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi, according to Zimbabwe’s state-run Herald newspaper.
The summit is part of the efforts by the Southern African Development Community, the 16-nation regional body, to determine how to best respond to the extremist threat to Mozambique.
The regional leaders also met in Botswana last month to discuss the same matter, and agreed to “direct the finalization of a comprehensive regional response.”
Although he continues discussing the deadly conflict with the 16-member regional grouping, Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi has not officially asked for help, which is necessary for the group to intervene militarily.
Mozambique has so far relied on its own troops and a private military contractor to combat the extremists.
The extremists’ three-year insurgency in Cabo Delgado has claimed the lives of more than 2,200 people, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project. More than 355,000 have been forced to leave their homes, the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
The extremist violence is also threatening the multi-billion dollar investment being made by international companies to exploit Mozambique’s massive deposits of liquified natural gas along the Indian Ocean coastline of Cabo Delgado province.
What started as a few dozen unemployed and disaffected young men inspired by radical Muslim ideology has grown to a force estimated at 3,000, according to experts.
Further south, the provincial capital city of Pemba and the surrounding areas are inundated with families fleeing the violence. International aid agencies including the World Food Program, the International Committee of the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders are working to provide emergency food and services to the displaced.