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Southern African leaders discuss Mozambique security situation

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The Presidents of Zimbabwe and Botswana met in Harare on Wednesday as Southern African states rushed to craft a response to the deteriorating security situation in Mozambique.

The regional bloc is said to be preparing a military intervention in Mozambique's northern Cabo Delgado region, where militant violence has been raging since 2017.

Last week, armed fighters overrun the costal town of Palma - killing dozens of civilians and sending thousands fleeing for safety. 

"President Masisi is the current chairperson of the troika, so he was briefing me about the security situation in the region with particular emphasis on what is happening in Cabo Delgado," said Emmerson Mnangagwa, President of Zimbabwe.

Mnangagwa is also the head of the regional bloc SADC's peace and security organ.   

On his part, Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi said the bloc was developing a response to help Mozambique deal with its security challenges. 

"We have formed views as a troika. One of them will result in taking this further so that we as SADC respond in a helpful manner to ensure that we assure the integrity and sovereignty of one of our own, never to be assaulted by dissident, rebellious and non-state-actor forces," Masisi said. 

'Urgent regional and international action'

The African Union (AU) on Wednesday called for "urgent regional and international action" after a jihadist attack in the northern Mozambican town of Palma that left dozens dead and thousands displaced.

Expressing his "utmost concern" about the "threat" posed by terrorist groups in southern Africa, Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat called for "urgent regional and international action.

He said the AU is "ready to support the region and its mechanisms to jointly address this urgent threat," in a statement issued Wednesday evening.

A week ago, armed groups attacked the strategic city of 75,000 inhabitants. The raid, which took place just a few kilometers from a multi-billion dollar gas mega-project piloted by French energy major Total, was claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group.

On Wednesday, the Mozambican army launched an offensive to try to retake the town taken by rebels on Friday night.

Armed groups, known locally as Al-Shabab ("the youth" in Arabic), have been ravaging the poor but gas-rich province of Cabo Delgado, bordering Tanzania, for more than three years.

The AU "condemns in the strongest terms the terrorist attacks in the Cabo Delgado region and in particular the recent violence" in Palma, the statement said.

Thousands of people were forced to flee after the latest attack. In one week, 8,100 people have arrived in the surrounding districts, according to the UN.

The violence in the region is causing a humanitarian crisis, which is likely to worsen, with more than 670,000 people forced to leave their homes, according to the United Nations. The NGO Acled counted 2,600 dead before the attack on Palma, half of whom were civilians.

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