Children abducted then dragged away by jihadists in Mozambique

Hundreds of children in northeastern Mozambique have been kidnapped by jihadists, then trained in camps to become combatants and join their ranks, the NGO Human Rights Watch denounced on Wednesday. Jihadist armed groups have been reigning terror since the end of 2017 in the province of Cabo Delgado, bordering Tanzania, rich in natural gas but poor and predominantly Muslim. Several witnesses reported to the NGO the kidnapping of hundreds of boys, some as young as 12, who were then taken to training camps.

“We joined other men and boys, many, and we were taught how to use weapons and knives to fight,” told the NGO a young man claiming to have been kidnapped by the jihadists in 2020 in Mbau, about 150 kilometers from Pemba, the capital of Cabo Delgado. “They told us that we had to kill and fight for our land and to protect our religion,” he continued, explaining that he managed to escape.

A violent attack in Palma in March

Last March, a large-scale attack on the port city of Palma left dozens of people dead. According to a resident, jihadists kidnapped his 17-year-old son during the raid. “I begged on my knees for him to take me in his place,” said the father, adding that one of the men hit his wife on the head with an AK-47. She says she saw her son again two months after the attack, just before the family left Palma, transformed into a ghost town after the violence. “I was hiding inside the house when I heard his voice,” she told HRW. “I saw him with a dozen other boys, all wearing camouflage pants and a red headband around his head.”

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The NGO collected the testimonies of four parents, a young boy who said he escaped and two witnesses. The conflict in the region has killed 3,300 people, the majority of them civilians, according to the NGO Acled. More than 800,000 people have been forced to leave their homes. According to the President of Mozambique, Filipe Nyusi, the conflict against the jihadist armed groups, marked by some successes by the joint Mozambican and Rwandan forces, is in “phase of consolidation”.

The strategic port of Mocimboa-da-Praia was taken back from the jihadists in early August and advances were made in the Palma area, very close to the gas installations managed by the French group Total. Rwanda was the first African country to send troops, 1,000 troops in July, to help the Mozambican army. Others in the region followed, notably South Africa which sent 1,500 troops.

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