By Emma Rumney and Bate Felix
JOHANNESBURG/PARIS (Reuters) – Exxon Mobil Corp <XOM.N> and Total <TOTF.PA> have asked Mozambique to send more troops to guard their operations in the far north after a surge of attacks by Islamist militants, an industry source and two security consultants said.
Mozambique’s northern province of Cabo Delgado is home to one of the world’s biggest gas finds in the past decade, and both oil majors are working on massive LNG projects that could transform the economy.
The area is also the center of an Islamist insurgency that has killed hundreds since 2017. Fighters have destroyed villages, clashed with soldiers and often beheaded captives. (https://reut.rs/31cmuDh)
The three sources said that the companies were negotiating with the government to try to increase the number of soldiers protecting their operations.
One of the security consultants said there were around 500 troops in the region and the companies wanted another 300. An industry source with knowledge of the situation and another security consultant said more security had been requested, but did not provide numbers.
Exxon said it did not comment on discussions with the government, and referred Reuters to Mozambique’s Ministry of National Defence.
Mozambique’s government communications department did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment outside usual business hours, while calls to the department and ministry of defense went unanswered
Total declined to comment on whether it had requested an increase in troops, but said the safety of its employees was paramount.
“We continue to monitor conditions closely and work with the relevant authorities and other stakeholders to provide a safe and secure working environment for our workforce and local communities,” it said it a statement.
The militants called themselves Ahlu Sunnah Wa-Jama when they started launching attacks in 2017. More recently, Islamic State has claimed responsibility via its media outlets, though there has been no independent confirmation of a link.
The fighters – who tout their brand of Islam as an antidote to what they describe as a corrupt ruling elite – have been stepping up operations in Cabo Delgado, analysts say.
There are concerns they might also be moving south after an assault in the district of Quissanga last week.
One of the security consultants said the oil and gas companies were no longer satisfied with the security provided, and were requesting more support in response to a changing threat.
(Reporting by Emma Rumney in Johannesburg and Bate Felix in Paris; Editing by Andrew Heavens)