US charges three for supporting Cameroon separatists

Cameroon Cameroon'.  By Valentina BRESCHI (AFP)
Cameroon'. By Valentina BRESCHI (AFP)

The US Justice Department announced charges Monday against three men who allegedly helped fund separatist fighters in Cameroon and supported the 2020 kidnapping of Catholic cardinal Christian Tumi.

The three men, US citizens of Cameroon origin, are accused of raising $350,000 for arms and bomb-making materials for the separatist Ambazonian Restoration Forces operating in Cameroon's English-speaking northwest region.

The funds also supported kidnappings by the separatists, including of Tumi and Sehm Mbinglo, a traditional chief in the troubled region.

Both were freed within days. Tumi, who died in 2021, had frequently sought to mediate between the government and the separatists in the mainly French-speaking country.

The Justice Department said Claude Chi, 40, of Lee's Summit, Missouri; Francis Chenyi, 49, of St. Paul, Minnesota; and Lah Nestor Langmi, 46, of Buffalo, New York, were arrested Monday on charges of conspiracy to provide material support to support kidnappings and use weapons of mass destruction in a foreign country.

Each man held a senior position in an organization that supported and directed the Ambazonian Restoration Forces, according to the Justice Department.

The three "solicited and raised funds for equipment, supplies, weapons and explosive materials to be used in attacks against Cameroonian government personnel, security forces and property, along with other civilians believed to be enabling the government," the Justice Department said in a statement.

They also conspired with people in Cameroon to kidnap civilians for ransom, it said.

It said they raised the funds from donations by others in the United States and other countries.

Cameroon's Northwest and Southwest regions have been gripped by conflict since separatists declared independence in 2017 after decades of grievances at perceived discrimination by the francophone majority.

The conflict has claimed more than 6,000 lives and forced more than a million people to flee their homes, according to the International Crisis Group.