YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – A Catholic expert on Africa has called the first death caused by a landmine in the northern Mozambique province of Cabo Delgado a “disturbing” development, saying it could undercut efforts to end a conflict he sees as largely fueled by lust for oil wealth.

According to the news channel, ‘A Voz de Cabo Delgado’ or ‘The Voice of Cabo Delgado,” a ten-year old child lost his life Tuesday after he stepped on a landmine in the village of Mbau, Mocímboa da Praia district, Cabo Delgado province.

It was the first death due to landmine since conflict broke out in the northern province of Cab Delgado in 2017. Insurgents reportedly have placed mines around the region, though most were believed to have been deactivated by Rwandan forces.

The resort to landmines raised alarm flags for Catholic observers.

Johan Viljoen, Director of the Denis Hurley Peace Institute of the Bishop’s Conference of Southern Africa called the development a very disturbing one.

“I think it’s a very disturbing and negative development,” he told Crux.

“Landmines are very easy to plant and cause terrible destruction to civilian people and it brings back bad, bad memories of the civil war in Mozambique in the late 1980s, when there were landmines everywhere and people had their legs blown off when they went into the fields to harvest.”

The war Viljoen references was largely seen as another front in the Cold War, fought between the country’s ruling Marxist Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO) and the anti-communist insurgent forces of the Mozambican National Resistance (RENAMO), supported by the United States, and a number of smaller factions.

RENAMO opposed FRELIMO’s attempts to establish a socialist one-party state, and was heavily backed by the anti-communist governments of Rhodesia and South Africa who supported them in order to undermine FRELIMO’s support for militant nationalist organizations in their own countries.

The war, which lasted between 1977 to 1992, led to the deaths of over one million Mozambicans, and the destruction of the country’s infrastructure.

Today’s conflict in Cabo Delgado has very different roots. According to the Mozambique government, it’s driven by an ongoing Islamist insurgency that started in 2017, pitting militant Islamists and jihadists attempting to establish an Islamic state in the region against Mozambican security forces.

Viljoen, however, questions that narrative, saying instead the fighting appears to be more related to a quest for profit.

Cabo Delgado is an area rich in natural resources and therefore is a natural attraction for international petroleum firms. In addition, precious stones such as rubies and other mineral deposits are not in short supply.

Viljoen argues that in order to exploit these resources, occupants of the lands where they are found need to be ejected, so the threat of terrorism has been used as a pretext to drive people away.

“The easiest way to get people off the land is by fueling this so-called insurgency,” he told Crux.

“The people have to flee, then the permission [that the government grants to occupy land] is cancelled and the land can be given to multinational corporations,” he said.

Viljoen said today he’s worried that the resort to landmines could significantly undermine the regional effort to fight the insurgency.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the Rwandan and Mozambique army also start losing their members,” he told Crux.

“It’s a very disturbing development, and it can only increase the amount of injuries and deaths,” he said.

He said the new wave of landmines demonstrates that claims by the government and the UN that the insurgency have been reduced to a trickle are simply not true.

“It also tells us that despite what the government has been saying, despite what the UN has been saying, the insurgency is far from being reduced, let alone being over,” he said.

“I think the insurgents are gaining strength and are using new weapons which they haven’t used before, for example landmines. And there are attacks all over the province, from Mocímboa da Praia in the North to Chiuri in the South,” Viljoen told Crux.

“The conflict is continuing and from where we sit, despite the lack of news coming out from Cabo Delgado, it only seems to be escalating,” he said.