YAOUNDÉ – Cameroon this week deployed an additional 300 troops to Bui, a northwestern administrative unit that the military says has become a stronghold for separatists. The troops are conducting house-to-house searches for weapons and destroying improvised explosive devices and rebel camps. But Civilians accuse both sides of abuses and rights violations.
Cameroon’s military says Bui, an administrative unit in the English speaking North West Region, is becoming an epicenter of separatist atrocities. About 35 improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, were destroyed by the military within the past two weeks.
Other IEDs planted by separatists, the military says, destroyed vehicles and roads.
Troops sent to restore order in June killed seven fighters including three self-proclaimed separatist generals, authorities said. Four soldiers died while seizing weapons from fighters.
General Valere Nka is commander of government troops fighting the separatists.
He said 300 additional troops have been deployed this week to Bui with a mission to destroy IEDs and separatist camps.
Nka said there is no time to rest for his troops as killings and looting by rebels is still rife in Bui. He said fighters continue to threaten freedoms and liberties of civilians.
He said President Paul Biya, who is commander-in-chief of Cameroon’s armed forces, has instructed the military to destroy separatist camps and neutralize rebels and their self-proclaimed generals.
Nka urged civilians to assist the military in reporting suspects and helping identify their hideouts.
The Presbyterian Church in Bui said dozens of its members, especially motorcycle riders who transport travelers, have fled months of fighting.
Forty-year-old Christopher Tatah said he escaped to the French-speaking western town of Bafoussam. He said government forces seized his motorcycle in Kumbo, the capital of Bui.
“When they [the military] come, they break into houses and then they loot. They collect telephones, musical sets and then any other electronical gadget that they need. When they see any motor bike, they just collect and they do not give it back. So, we are pleading. The government should see [negotiate] a way that this war [separatist crisis] should come to an end,” he said.
Tatah said civilians accused of collaborating with the military are targeted and tortured by fighters.
He said before leaving Kumbo last Sunday, six civilians were killed when an explosive device planted by fighters detonated.
Separatists have been fighting for the creation of an independent English-speaking state called Ambazonia.
Capo Daniel is a self-proclaimed deputy defense chief of the Ambazonia Defense Forces, a rebel group in Cameroon’s western regions. He claims responsibility for the IEDs, but says fighters target only the military. He spoke via the messaging app, WhatsApp.
“Those civilians that were affected by those bombs [IEDs] were civilians who were being transported in Cameroonian military vehicles. Those military vehicles are legitimate targets for our forces on the ground. We will continue to target them and any civilians that allow themselves to be transported in military armored personnel carriers will definitely come under fire.”
Capo blamed the military for most of the atrocities. Nka said the military has remained professional and respects the rights of citizens.
Deben Tchoffo is the governor of Cameroon’s Northwest region. He said the troops deployed to Bui this week have been instructed to search homes and seize illegal weapons said to be in wide circulation.
“There are some prophets of doom who want to bring chaos in our region by destabilizing the population of the Northwest region. We instructed the administrative authorities and the security forces [the military] to recuperate all those guns, ammunition that are circulating in the region. The process is ongoing. We are going to make sure all those that are still keeping guns and ammunition in the region are brought to book and prosecuted,”
Violence erupted in 2017 in Cameroon’s English-speaking regions when teachers and lawyers protested alleged discrimination at the hands of the French-speaking majority. The military reacted with a crackdown and separatist groups took up weapons, claiming that they were protecting civilians. The U.N. says 3,000 people have been killed and more than 50,000 displaced in French-speaking towns and in neighboring Nigeria
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