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Southern African states set emergency talks on Mozambique

Islamic State-linked militants launched an assault on the town of Palma on March 24, in what is seen as the biggest escalation of a three-year-old insurgency.

People wait for their relatives and friends to arrive in Pemba on 1 April 2021, from the boat of evacuees from the coasts of Palma. More than 1,000 people evacuated from the shores of the town of Palma arrived at the sea port of Pemba after insurgents attacked Palma on 24 March 2021. Picture: Alfredo Zuniga/AFP

MAPUTO, Mozambique - Six southern African presidents are to hold emergency talks on the crisis in northern Mozambique, where jihadists last month seized a key town, a regional bloc said on Tuesday.

Islamic State-linked militants launched an assault on the town of Palma on March 24, in what is seen as the biggest escalation of a three-year-old insurgency.

The authorities say dozens have been killed, while thousands have fled the town of some 75,000 people.

Talks on the crisis will take place in the Mozambican capital of Maputo on Thursday, gathering the presidents of Mozambique, Malawi, Tanzania, Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

The 16-member Southern African Development Community (SADC), which made the announcement, said the meeting would "deliberate on measures to address terrorism" in Mozambique.

Botswanan President Mokgweetsi Masisi, the SADC's current chair, said the attacks were an "affront" to the peace and security of Mozambique, the region and the international community.

Southern Africa had enjoyed relative stability compared to other regions in recent years until insurgents started battering Mozambique's gas-rich Cabo Delgado province.

Mozambique's authorities claim that Palma is now fully under the government's control.

French energy giant Total last week shut its operations and withdrew all staff at a gas project on the Afungi peninsula, some 10 kilometres (six miles) from the town.

Known locally as Al-Shabaab -- but with no known relation to the Somali group of the same name -- Cabo Delgado's jihadists have launched more than 800 raids on towns and villages in an apparent bid to establish an Islamic caliphate.

The violence has killed over 2,600 people and uprooted around three-quarters of a million others, according to estimates.

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