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Cameroon civilians suffer 'severe impact' of rising violence: HRW

By AFP
Cameroon Cameroon.  By Valentina BRESCHI (AFP)
FRI, 12 JAN 2024 LISTEN
Cameroon. By Valentina BRESCHI (AFP)

Violence in Cameroon's English-speaking regions and the Far North increased in the second half of 2023 with civilians "severely impacted", according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Clashes between armed groups and government forces saw an increase in "cases of unlawful killings, abduction and raids on villages" in the last six months of the year, the New York-based organisation said in an annual review released Thursday.

Cameroon's primarily English-speaking Northwest and Southwest regions have been gripped by conflict since separatists declared independence in 2017.

That followed decades of grievances over perceived discrimination at the hands of the country's French-speaking majority.

President Paul Biya, 90, who has ruled Cameroon with an iron fist for 41 years, has resisted calls for wider autonomy and responded with a crackdown.

In the Anglophone areas, separatists kept up attacks on schools, students and education professionals last year as part of a boycott against the teaching of French.

The report listed at least 2,245 schools that are "not functioning" in the Anglophone regions.

By mid-2023, more than 638,000 people had been displaced and 1.7 million needed humanitarian aid in the two regions.

They saw continued violence for a sixth year, HRW noted, "despite President Paul Biya saying in January that many armed separatist groups had surrendered and that the threat they posed had been significantly reduced".

"Abusive army raids and killings of civilians may also have been perpetrated against individuals suspected of being separatists or in retaliation for attacks against army positions," HRW said.

Since the violence first erupted in 2016 at least 6,000 civilians have been killed by government and separatist forces, the report said.

The Far North region, plagued since 2009 by militants from Boko Haram and its rival Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), saw 246 attacks and the killing of at least 169 civilians by non-state actors -- mostly Islamist groups -- last year, HRW said.

Three aid workers with French NGO Premiere Urgence Internationale were abducted on Wednesday in the Far North where the borders of Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon meet.

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