U.S. officials pledged $22 million in new funding Thursday to help Mozambique fight Islamist militants in the country’s troubled, oil-rich Cabo Delgado, where an insurgency has intensified in recent weeks.

The United States already had pledged $100 million.

At the end of a five-day visit to Maputo, Anne Witkowsky, U.S. assistant secretary of state for conflict and stabilization operations, said the funding aims to help Mozambique with stabilizing and peacebuilding efforts in its northern provinces.

Calling security in north Mozambique critical, Witkowsky told VOA that the U.S.-financed programs provide training for local government officials to deliver services; promote social cohesion through peace clubs, sports and the arts; and increase educational and employment opportunities for youth.

“Mozambique is a priority partner country under our strategy to prevent conflict and promote stability,” she said. “So, the U.S. supports a Mozambique that is more prosperous, more secure, more resilient and more democratic for all.”

Since 2017, Mozambique’s province of Cabo Delgado has faced an armed insurgency, with some attacks claimed by an extremist group calling itself Islamic State.

On Monday, Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi warned that terrorism could divide the country, advocating that citizens unite to fight rebel groups in the province.

Nyusi spoke after missionaries, priests and religious sisters were forced to flee from remote towns and villages to Pemba and other large cities, which are overwhelmed with persons displaced by the conflict.

Nyusi said resolution of the problem depends on the unity of Mozambicans and foreign forces supporting them.

The Reverend Marcos Macamo, a scholar of African theology and religious sciences, is part of a coalition of religious and civic advocacy groups that are urging the government to open negotiatons with the militants. But, he said, even diplomacy has its own challenges.

“The terrorists … wouldn’t have power unless local people give them information,” Macamo said. “They [locals] open the doors slightly so that the enemy can enter.”

The insurgency in northern Mozambique began in 2017 but has seen an increase in attacks since the beginning of this year. In the last few days alone, there have been several raids on towns and villages, and people have been killed or kidnapped.

According to humanitarian agencies, the insurgency has killed at least 5,000 people and displaced more than 1 million.

Oil giants Exxon Mobil and Total are among international energy companies developing natural gas projects offshore of northern Mozambique.

By  Charles Mangwiro