Over 40 feared dead after boat carrying Mozambique conflict victims sinks

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MAPUTO (Reuters) - More than 40 people were feared to have drowned in Mozambique's conflict-torn north after their boat sank, the administrator of an island district said on Tuesday.

Almost 400,000 people have fled their homes in the northernmost province of Cabo Delgado, according to the World Food Programme. Home to gas projects worth some $60 billion, the province is also the target of an Islamist insurgency with links to Islamic State that has flourished since 2017.

The boat was carrying 74 people fleeing the violence when it sank on Sunday in the Indian Ocean between the islands of Ibo and Matemo, just north of the provincial capital of Pemba, where many have sought refuge, Ibo district administrator Issa Tarmamade said by phone.

He said 32 of those people were rescued by a passing sail boat, while the others were feared dead. Some bodies had already been found, including the body of a child recovered on Ibo island on Tuesday.

"We are combing the area... We expect to find more dead bodies on the shores of those islands," he said, adding while the cause of the accident was not known, the small boat may have been overloaded with people and their belongings.

Throughout 2020, the insurgent group has massively stepped up the scale and frequency of its attacks, which have seen them beat back government forces to seize a number of significant towns.

The violence saw thousands of people arrive on Pemba's beaches in a matter of days alone in October.

(Reporting by Manuel Mucari; Editing by Emma Rumney and Cynthia Osterman)