from ARIMANDO DOMINGOS in Maputo, Mozambique
MAPUTO, (CAJ News) –THE great statesman, Nelson Mandela, famously hailed sport as having the power to change the world, to inspire and unite people in a way that little else does.
Brazilian Pele also described football as “the beautiful game.”
These proclamations have come to pass in the most unlikely of ways in Mozambique where terrorists perpetrating an Islamist insurgency against communities north of the country have taken to playing football with civilians amid the crisis.
Humanitarian organisations that have intervened to curb the banditry by the group known as Ansar al-Sunna reported spotting the bandits playing the sport with villagers in some areas of the besieged province of Cabo Delgado.
The Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) has confirmed sighting the suspected terrorists engaging in the game with locals particularly in the Miangalewa area of the Muidumbe district.
It is believed they are engaging in football as a pastime while they evade operations by the armed forces.
“Insurgents remained in the town and were playing football with locals recently,” said a spokesperson of the humanitarian groups.
The official confirmed the suspects had been present in Miangelwa from May 20, playing football until last Friday of May.
“They were gone by the time government forces arrived,” the spokesperson said.
Local community members also expressed shock at seeing the insurgents in the town.
“Initially, villagers were apprehensive at the presence of the bandits but all was forgotten as they laid their arms and partook in the game. There was a spirit of unity during the informal matches and there was no incident,” villager Akin Tembe said.
The sighting of the suspected terrorists engaging in the beautiful game has coincided with a reduction in terror attacks.
ACLED reported a drop in violent incidents and none resulting in any civilian fatalities.
“The lull is not out of character for the conflict,” the spokesperson said.
Quissanga and Muidumbe districts have also been calm.
It is believed the insurgents have been withdrawing from their strongholds ahead of government forces rather than engaging in major combat.
Muslim extremists have perpetrated a reign of terror in northern Mozambique since 2017.
Tensions have heightened since the discovery of lucrative reserves of oil and gas.
More than 1 000 people have been killed.
– CAJ News