MAPUTO– The Mozambican police claim they have prevented the recruitment of 33 people from the northern province of Nampula to join the Islamist insurgency in parts of the neighbouring province of Cabo Delgado.

The 33, who included youths, elderly people and even children, were travelling in a sail boat from Geba, in MembaDistrict of Nampula, to Mocimboa da Praia in Cabo Delgado. Mocimboa da Praia is where Islamic fundamentalists launched their insurrection last October.

The boat ran into problems in the area of Pangane, the police intercepted it, and were convinced that the group had been recruited to join the ranks of the terrorist groups operating in Mocimboa da Praia and neighbouring districts.

The suspects were not arrested, but were simply returned to Geba, according to media reports here. The 33 insisted that they were fishermen and were only going to Cabo Delgado because the fishing off the coast of Mocimbo da Praia is better than in Memba at this time of year.

The police do not believe this story.

The Cabo Delgado police commander, Francisco Sive, who co-ordinated the operation to return the 33 to Geba, declared: Some people have enticed youths to go to Cabo Delgado to fish or to undertake other activities in the province. But what they don’t know is that they’re not going there to fish. Once they get there, they’re sent to other places, where there are other purposes.”

This is at least the second time that people have been returned from Cabo Delgado to Memba. The Nampula police command has lamented the apparent reluctance of Memba residents to accept advice and stop making trips up the coast to Cabo Delgado.

The 33 people returned to Geba said nobody recruited them, and that travel by fishermen along the northern coast is quite normal. When there seems to be a shortage of fish in one area, the fishermen move to another. Their relatives backed up their stories, telling reporters they had simply intended to fish off the Cabo Delgado coast.