Maputo - Thousands of survivors of a deadly Islamist attack on Mozambique's northern town of Palma were being evacuated on Sunday to the provincial capital Pemba, aid and rights agencies said.
Militants began attacking the town, a gas hub in the province of Cabo Delgado, on Wednesday, forcing nearly 200 people including foreign gas workers to evacuate a hotel where they had taken refuge.
They were temporarily taken to the heavily guarded gas plant located on the Afungi peninsula on the Indian Ocean coast south of the Tanzanian border before being moved to Pemba.
Some residents of the town of around 75,000 people fled to the peninsula -- home of a multi-billion dollar gas project being built by France's Total and other energy companies.
"A boat left Afungi yesterday at about 18:00 (1600 GMT) and is heading for Pemba. About 1,400 people are on board," according to a source close to the rescue operation.
The evacuees included non-essential staff of Total and Palma residents who had sought refuge on the gas site.
Caritas, a Catholic aid agency which is active in the province, also reported new arrivals to Pemba, located around 250 kilometres south of Palma.
"We confirm the arrival of workers from some companies in Palma," Manuel Nota, local head of Caritas, told AFP by phone.
"Now we await the arrival of people that are most vulnerable so that we can provide assistance," said Nota, adding his organisation had cancelled food aid deliveries to Palma due to the attacks.
Human Rights Watch said the militants indiscriminately shot civilians in their homes and on the streets.
"A rescue operation is currently underway. An unknown number of people died as they tried to flee Amarula hotel -- convoy was attacked by the insurgents," Human Rights Watch regional director Dewa Mavhinga told AFP.
The Mozambique government, which has not given any update on the attack since Thursday, is expected to issue a statement at 1700 GMT.
The militant attack on Palma is the closest yet to the major gas project during a three-year Islamist insurgency across Mozambique's north.
The extremist fighters have since October 2017 raided villages and towns across Mozambique's north, causing nearly 700,000 to flee their homes.
The violence has left at least 2,600 people dead, half of them civilians, according to the US-based data collecting agency Armed Conflict Location and Event Data (ACLED).
France Media Agency