French energy giant Total pulls staff from Mozambique site over jihadist threat

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French oil and gas multinational Total has evacuated employees from a major gas site in northern Mozambique after a string of jihadist attacks nearby.

The northern province of Cabo Delgado, which has major gas resources, has been the scene of a bloody jihadist rebellion for more than three years.

However in recent weeks there have been intensifying attacks near the gas site on the Afungi peninsula, several security sources told AFP. Afungi is home to the 16.5 billion-euro ($20 billion) project.

"The Total-led Mozambique LNG Project has temporarily reduced its workforce on site in response to the prevailing environment, including ongoing challenges associated with COVID-19 and the security situation in northern Cabo Delgado," the company said in a statement.

It did not say how many people were involved, but said that around 3,000 people were working at the site at the end of December, most of them employed by contractors.

One security source said the company was trying to relocate about a hundred people to the capital, Maputo, and several airlines were working out how many flights would be required to evacuate all the expatriate workers.

Several local workers have also been told stay at home until further order, according to several employees and security sources.

December raids

Military sources say that jihadists carried out at least four raids in December just a few kilometres from the gas project, which is still being built and is not due to go online until 2024.

In the last few days, members of an armed group known locally as Al-Shabaab -- which has sworn allegiance to the Islamic State group but has no known links to the group of the same name operating in Somalia -- have been reported driving towards Afungi.

Rebels and the security forces were involved in a gun fight on Friday evening at Quitupo village, which is on the gas site, one security source said.

The rebel fighters were killed, but it is the first time that there has been fighting on the 7,000-hectare site itself.

A few days earlier, the rebels launched several attacks on the village of Monjane, just five kilometres from the site of the gas project, which is heavily guarded.

The fighting in the north of the country has already claimed 2,400 lives and forced 570,000 people to flee their homes, according to the government.

More than half of those killed were civilians, says the non-profit organisation ACLED, which tracks data relating to armed conflicts.

Total is the main investor in the gas project and holds 26.5 percent of the shares. Six other international businesses are also involved.