New violence has wracked northwestern Cameroon, where the military said it killed some 40 separatist fighters over the past two weeks. The Catholic Church said some of those killed were civilians, and witnesses said many houses were burned to the ground.

Cameroon’s government is expressing frustration with the separatists but vows it will not allow the breakup of the country.

External Relations Minister Lejeune Mbella Mbella summoned ambassadors to a meeting Thursday where he laid out the government’s position on the  separatist crisis. 

Mbella Mbella said the separatists are again causing untold suffering in the English-speaking western towns and villages of the majority French-speaking nation. 

He said Cameroon is surprised fighters continue to commit atrocities when much has been done to satisfy the needs of the minority English speakers who feel marginalized.

“The government of Cameroon has undertaken the most expensive and extensive structural and administrative reforms in its recent history,” Mbella Mbella said. “As a key recommendation of the major national dialogue, the government tabled the bill to institute the special status. His excellency Paul Biya has also granted a general full amnesty to combatants who voluntarily drop their weapons.” 

None of the heads of diplomatic missions invited to the meeting would comment when contacted by VOA.

 By “special status,” the minister is referring to political reforms that gave the largely English-speaking northwest and southwestern regions greater autonomy. The reforms were passed after Cameroon organized what it called a major national dialogue to solve the separatist crisis in 2019. 

Mbella Mbella also declared the government will not allow any part of the country to secede. 

The separatists have a different point of view. This week, an official from what the separatists call the Ambazonia Interim Government said on Facebook that their forces will never surrender, and that the English speakers will fight until freedom is achieved. 

They also accuse government forces of being responsible for many killings and much of the destruction in the western regions. 

Separatists blame the government for torching houses during recent operations in the northwestern town of Kumbo and areas nearby. The government said separatist forces were to blame. 

The military also said about 40 fighters have been killed in raids on separatist camps in the past two weeks. 

However, the National Episcopal Conference of Cameroon’s Catholic Bishops — a neutral party in the conflict — said some of those killed were civilians.

Kumbo Mayor Venatius Mborong said several hundred civilians had fled the renewed fighting. 

“They left Kumbo because they have been kidnapped a couple of times and they have paid ransom and now they are frankless [poor],” Mborong said. “People have sold houses, they have sold their lands, and so they cannot continue staying there.” 

The United Nations says the separatist war has forced more than 500,000 people to flee their homes since the conflict erupted in late 2017.

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