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04.03.2020 Europe

Cameroon army defends its behaviour in Anglophone regions

By Daniel Finnan - RFI
Photo: Marco Longari/AFP
LISTEN MAR 4, 2020
Photo: Marco Longari/AFP

Cameroon's military has hit back at criticism about its conduct in the country's Anglophone regions in response to reporting by RFI on alleged abuses by Cameroonian soldiers. An army spokesperson says Cameroon security forces operate with “professionalism, discipline, honour and loyalty”, furthermore, foreign non-governmental organisations are supporting Anglophone secessionists.

“Our defense forces have always known how to respect these principles, necessary for the smooth running of operations,” spokesperson Cyrille Atonfack Guemo told RFI.

Cameroonian soldiers are focused on taking care of the “armed bandits claiming to be a secessionist movement” and are operating in strict respect of “international humanitarian law”, according to the military spokesperson.

RFI published a report this week detailing alleged abuses by both Cameroonian troops and Anglophone rebel groups based on testimonies from people in Buea, Kumba and Mamfe in the South West region.

Cameroon's army spokesperson did not respond directly to questions about soldiers using taxis as transport during combat, the army's definition of combatants in this theatre of operations and whether soldiers were giving out compensation to the families of victims killed.

Comment was also specifically requested by RFI regarding the killing in February of a pregnant woman and her four children in the jungle surrounding the village of Talangai, the killing of a woman in the Sand Pit neighbourhood of Buea and the transport of her remains in a military vehicle, as well as the soldiers entering a hospital to search for injured civilians.

Military spokesperson Atonfack Guemo did not address these specific questions, but reiterated that the main aim of the army's security operations are to help “return things to normal” in these two regions, despite allegations to the contrary.

Humanitarian situation
Local humanitarian organisations had told RFI that they felt as if both the army and separatists viewed them as trying to help the other side, “being branded a spy”. Despite efforts to maintain neutrality, both sides in the conflict were ignoring humanitarian law, according to local NGOs.

Preventing the delivery of humanitarian aid is “inconceivable”, according to military spokesperson Atonfack Guemo, especially given the army's mandate to try and improve living conditions in the Anglophone regions and protect people at risk.

“The Cameroonian authorities have always known how to respond favourably and provide all the necessary security assistance to the humanitarian organisations having requested to work in the so-called Anglophone area,” said Atonfack Guemo in emailed comments.

Furthermore, the military communications official took aim at international organisations who he says are responsible for helping the secessionist cause.

“Ambulances belonging to an NGO such as Médecins Sans Frontière [Doctors Without Borders] were sometimes found abandoned in the forest, either carrying armed combatants, as well as ammunition,” said the spokesperson.

Atonfack Guemo accused rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch of sponsoring attacks carried out by the secessionist groups against the Cameroonian authorities.

“The most resounding case was seen at the end of January with the arson of the residence of Achiri [sic] Kilo, secretary general in the ministry of secondary school education,” said Atonfack Guemo. “There again, these NGOs were behind this act through the manipulation of the separatists they have taken on to shift the blame onto our defense forces. Truly, a false flag strategy,” he added.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have both recently criticised the Cameroonian army over alleged rights abuses. HRW in late February detailed the alleged killing of at least 21 people in Ngarbuh village by security forces. Amnesty International in early February wrote about an alleged rise in killings in the Anglophone regions ahead of parliamentary elections.

Atonfack Guemo also accused a high-ranking official of the World Food Programme of carrying out a campaign of disinformation specifically designed to “tarnish” the reputation of the Cameroonian armed forces.

He referred to an incident in Ekona and “accusations of blocking the distribution of food aid” levelled at the Cameroonian army as well as a killing. The real version of events, according to Atonfack Guemo, involved a WFP food truck getting caught in the crossfire between Cameroonian soldiers and separatist fighters on 21 February.

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