“We burn only houses where we discover weapons,” General Donatien N. Melingui
Written by Jeremiah Ngwa on 6 May 2018
In less than two weeks, the convoys of the chief of staff, the governor and mine have been attacked
said General Donatien Nouma Melingui, in charge of military operations in the south-west, one of the two anglophones regions in crisis.
“The attacks come from everywhere, there are many small groups, led by comzones +”,
he estimates from Buea, the “capital” of the region. Less than 20 km away, a teacher was shot on Saturday
Buea is the last place where journalists and international NGOs can venture with the approval of the government which believes that, past the mountainous suburbs of the city, the security situation does not allow to circulate.
“On the road, armed men come out of the forest to control the cars If you are a French-speaking Cameroonian, a Frenchman or a soldier, you are dead”,
says Matthias Ekeke, rapporteur of the National Commission for Human Rights (CNDH) for the South West. France is accused by the separatists of supporting Yaoundé.
“It is impossible to move without crossing them,” corroborates a priest of the diocese who prefers to remain anonymous, describing fighters masked and armed summarily.
These men claim to be “restoration forces” of an English-speaking state, which had ephemerably emerged between the two world wars under British mandate. A state crumbled between Nigeria and Cameroon during the division of lands by former colonial administrators in 1960.
They are young drug addicts bardés of grigris”, slice General Melingui, who recognizes however that they “know their ground”.
“They are young people from the surrounding villages, we look for them but we do not find them, our elements are not at home in the forest”.
So, the army patrols the few roads that plunge into the dense forest. And gets attacked, often.
In the south-west, 24 members of the security forces have been killed since November 2017 by separatists in isolated attacks.
The balance sheets vary according to the sources, in a conflict where independent access to information is “almost impossible“, according to a human rights defender who prefers to remain anonymous.
The separatists use Whatsapp to communicate and spread their propaganda, when Yaoundé responds with a lot of press releases. “On both sides, there are lies, everyone tells what he wants,” he continues.
“And as no one knows the number of civilian deaths or the number of displaced, the press does not mention it.Everyone does not care about English-speaking Cameroon,” plague John, a student of Buea.
Cameroon may cry the dead, it is the army that has radicalized the youth against whom it fought.If Yaoundé had not started killing people, they would have ended this crisis before it gets worse “, says the priest.
“The army and the separatists are committing abuses, but the military is worse than the camp opposite and refuses to talk about it,”
said Blaise Chamango, director of the NGO “Human is Right“.
The army is accused by local residents and NGOs of setting fire to many English-speaking villages in retaliation for the killings of security forces.
“We burn only houses where we discover weapons,” defends himself, lapidary, General Melingui.
On social networks, videos of Cameroonian soldiers setting fire to barracks are multiplying, as well as testimonies of residents who have fled villages razed. Nearly 34,000 people fled to neighboring Nigeria
“When things get volatile on the ground, the military do what they want with impunity,” said Mr. Ekeke, CNDH.
Added to this is “empty schools for a year and a racket system of security forces,” he said. He says that gendarmes sometimes ask for 30,000 francs (45 euros) to the families of people arrested to release them.
“It’s a big chaos!” If young people join the fighters, it is because they feel abandoned by the Cameroonian state, “he worries.
In Buea, nestled on the flanks of Mount Cameroon, the military patrol the city and this “dirty war”, according to John, is on everyone’s lips.
According to all interlocutors met by the AFP, the populations of the South-West have for the most part sided with the separatist cause.
Why? “For fear of reprisals”, wants to believe General Melingui.
“Too much is too much, Anglophones in Cameroon have understood and we will not stop,” thinks a professor from the University of Buea.