Rwandan and Mozambican forces have recaptured the port town of Mocimboa da Praia, believed to be the last rebel stronghold in northern Mozambique, the Rwandan military said.
Mozambique's Defense Ministry also confirmed the Rwandan army’s statement that the joint force had driven out rebels occupying the key port city on Sunday morning.
Speaking to a press conference in the Mozambican capital Maputo, Colonel Omar Saranga, a ministry spokesman, said that the forces were now in control of government buildings, the port, airport, hospital, and other key installations.
Mocimboa da Praia, located in Cabo Delgado province and home to one of Africa's biggest gas fields, is a restive region where the militants launched their first attacks in October 2017.
The port city "was the last stronghold of the insurgents" and its recapture marks "the end of the first phase of counter-insurgency operations," Joint Military Forces spokesman Ronald Rwivanga said in a statement, adding that the army would remain in the recaptured areas until stability returns.
He said they are just “waiting for the final count but generally speaking the enemy had many casualties.”
Last month, the Rwandan government deployed about 1,000 forces to Mozambique to fight alongside Mozambique's forces and troops of the 16-member Southern African Development Community (SADC).
More than 3,000 people have been killed and 820,000 displaced during the conflict. The violence has also disrupted a $20 billion natural gas project led by oil giant Total.
Mozambique initially resisted outside help, but it seems to have accepted that it cannot win the fight alone. The Rwandan troops were deployed following an April visit to Kigali by Mozambican Leader Filipe Nyusi.
Last week, the Rwandan forces announced their first success, claiming they had helped the Mozambican army regain control of Awasse, a small but strategic settlement near Mocimboa da Praia.
Portugal, the former colonial power, is on the ground instructing soldiers, and the European Union has established a training mission in Mozambique. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) is also deploying hundreds of troops.
Analysts say driving the rebels out of towns and other strategic areas does not mean they are defeated. They will most likely retreat to their hideouts, splinter into smaller units, and change their tactics to stage a comeback.