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Omar Saranga said that at least seven were killed trying to escape a hotel siege. Reports say that hundreds of others, both locals and foreigners, managed to escape after being evacuated by boats. Col Lionel Dyke, of private security firm Dyck Advisory Group which is contracted by Mozambique police, told the BBC beaches are strewn with bodies "with heads and without".
Islamist rebels attacked Palma on Wednesday, leading to five days of fighting, that is still continuing.
The town has become a base for foreign contractors working on a multibillion dollar liquified natural gas project for the French energy company, Total.
Several hundred foreign workers from South Africa, France and the UK sought refuge at hotels in the town, with as many as 200 sheltering at the Hotel Amarula.
One foreign contractor told the BBC that many who managed to escape from the hotel, hid at a beach on Friday, before being evacuated by boat on Saturday morning.
Fighting in Africa
The relief effort appeared to be organised by local civilians, he said.
He also confirmed that more people were rescued after him and that boats planned to return to the area on Sunday.
"Local suppliers and companies, these guys were heroes of the entire operation," he said.
"In the wee hours they managed to co-ordinate and reach out to the evacuees on the beach and got them on to boats and got them into safety."
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A member of the shiite Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) lies on the ground after being shot dead
The exact number of casualties in Palma, a town of roughly 75,000 inhabitants in Cabo Delgado province, is still unclear.
The Guardian reports that as many as 60 people, mostly foreigners, were still unaccounted for after their convoy was attacked by the militants on Friday.
The evacuees were part of a 17 vehicle convoy that was trying to escape to safety.
Only seven vehicles made it through the ambush, with everyone in the other vehicles presumed dead.
Scenes of carnage and indiscriminate killings were recounted by witnesses to the organisation Human Rights Watch.
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They described seeing “bodies on the streets and residents fleeing after the … fighters fired indiscriminately at people and buildings”.
According to other reports, almost the entire town has been destroyed in the attack.
A UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office spokesperson said: “Our high commission in Maputo is in direct contact with authorities in Cabo Delgado to urgently seek further information on these reports.”
The Islamist rebels have been active in Cabo Delgado province since 2017, but their attacks have become much more frequent and deadly over the past year.
The insurgency has taken more than 2,600 lives and displaced an estimated 670,000 people, according to the UN.