Dozens of people were killed, more than 8,000 displaced and many missing after militants besieged Palma on March 24, ransacking buildings and beheading residents.

African Union Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat addresses the media during a press conference at the EU Africa Forum in Vienna, Austria, Tuesday, December 18, 2018.
African Union Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat addresses the media during a press conference at the EU Africa Forum in Vienna, Austria, Tuesday, December 18, 2018. (AP)

The African Union has called for urgent and coordinated international action after a militant attack that killed dozens and uprooted thousands on the northern Mozambican coastal town of Palma.

The militants captured Palma on March 24, ransacking buildings and beheading residents and forcing thousands to seek safety in surrounding forest.

Dozens have been killed, more than 8,000 displaced and many more are still missing following the coordinated attack seen as the biggest escalation of a militant insurgency that has battered Cabo Delgado province since 2017.

In a statement, AU chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat said he "condemns in the strongest terms the terrorist attacks".

Expressing "utmost concern" at the presence of international extremist groups in southern Africa, he called for an "urgent and coordinated regional and international action".

Regional bloc the Southern African Development Community held emergency talks in Harare to discuss the violence.

Botswana's President Mokgweetsi Masisi vowed regional help, but gave no details.

He said SADC would "respond in a helpful manner that we assure the integrity and sovereignty of one of our own, never to be assaulted by dissident, rebellious and non-state actor forces that undermine the democratic credentials and peace in the region."

But Mozambique President Filipe Nyusi on Wednesday downplayed the latest attack as "not the biggest", despite its unprecedented proximity to Africa's single biggest investment project.

READ MORE: Thousands find refuge after attack in Mozambique's Palma town

Palma attacks

Palma is around 10 kilometres (six miles) away from a multi-billion-dollar liquified natural gas project (LNG) led by France's Total and involving other international companies.

Total had already suspended operations and evacuated some staff in late December after militants launched a series of raids near its compound.

Mozambique has sent troops to Palma to try and recapture the city.

Cabo Delgado's militants have wreaked havoc across the province in a bid to establish a caliphate.

The insurgents are affiliated to Daesh, which claimed the attack on Palma this week.

READ MORE: What’s happening in Mozambique as Daesh claims deadly attacks?

Source: TRTWorld and agencies