Battle For Southern Cameroons: Peace Foundation Fears for Anarchy as Militias Get Out of Control
Groups claiming to be fighting for the independence of the Northwest and Southwest English-speaking regions of Cameroon have been increasing in number, a situation that is running out of control, the leadership of the Catholic peace and charity foundation, Denis Hurley Peace Institute (DHPI), has said, and expressed concern that the Central African nation may be sliding into anarchy.
In a Tuesday, September 20 interview with ACI Africa, DHPI Director, Johan Viljoen, said that leaders of the various separatist groups who have been attacking locals are no longer able to manage “their own fighters”.
“It is clear that the leaders of the various groups of separatist fighters have no control over their own fighters. An attack happens and you see the leaders issuing statements condemning the attack carried out by their own people. The fighters have gone out of control and what we fear is that the situation in the Northwest and Southwest parts of Cameroon may be deteriorating into anarchy,” Mr. Viljoen said.
The DHPI Director recounted that what started in 2017 as a pro-independence movement in the Northwest and Southwest region of Cameroon known as Ambazonia, and supported by all locals, has since evolved into separate militia groups that have turned against locals in a series of kidnappings for ransom and, sometimes, killings.
The Director of the peace entity of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) recounted that at the onset of the independence struggle in the Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon, the most recognized pro-independence leader, Julius Ayuk Tabe, was imprisoned, but continued to enjoy widespread support even as the Cameroonian military engaged the fighters to stem the insurgency.
Today, however, infighting amongst pro-independence groups has resulted in what the DHPI Director has referred to as “breakaway interim governments” with each one claiming to be the legitimate representative of the Ambazonian people.
The various factions often engage in armed attacks on each other, Mr. Viljoen said, and explained, “Atrocities against civilians by the Cameroonian army hardly happen anymore. Kidnappings and attacks on villages are now mostly committed by separatists.”
According to the DHPI Director, the tide is turning in the Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon as people who have undergone immeasurable suffering at the hands of the militias now express a preference for the President Paul Biya-led government over the separatist fighters.
“Grassroots sentiment is now turning against the separatists, with many locals saying that if these are to be the military and police force of an independent Ambazonia, then they are probably better off under the Biya government,” Mr. Viljoen told ACI Africa September 20.
He expressed concern that attacks against churches and kidnapping of church personnel including Priests and Nuns have been increasing, and said, “We really fear for the safety of our Priest, Sisters, Seminarians and other Church personnel.”
Asked about the reason behind the targeting of the Catholic Church, the DHPI Director said, “I have no idea. We can’t say that it is Christians that are being targeted because the Anglophone crisis has no religious bearing.”
He continued, “I would say the Church is a soft spot. There has also always been the perception that the Catholic Church has a lot of money. Anyone who works in the Church would say that this is a wrong perception.”
Mr. Viljoen made reference to the September 16 arson attack on St. Mary’s Catholic Nchang Parish of the country’s Mamfe Diocese during which five Priests and a Catholic Nun were among those kidnapped, and said that those kidnapped “have not been heard of since then”.
The Director of the peace entity of the Catholic Bishops in Botswana, Eswatini, and South Africa underlined the need for separatist fighters to cease attacking locals in order to regain the support of local communities in the English-speaking region.
“The pro-independence movement now faces two choices. Either unite, abstain from attacks and kidnappings against local people and churches and win back the hearts and minds of local communities. Or end up like Somalia, Eastern DRC or South Sudan, trapped in an endless cycle of internecine warfare and killing,” DHPI says in a report shared with ACI Africa on Monday, September 19.
In the September 20 interview with ACI Africa, Mr. Viljoen expressed concern that Cameroon could especially end up like South Sudan that has been experiencing war that was sparked by a disagreement between the country’s current President Salva Kiir and former opposition leader, Dr. Riek Machar in December 2013.
“At first, the leaders in South Sudan enjoyed the support of the locals because they were fighting for the independence of South Sudan. But the infighting between the leaders is what caused the current crisis in the country. I fear that Cameroon may end up this way,” the Director of DHPI said.
Culled from ACI Africa