Cameroon’s military says separatist fighters have, for the first time, used anti-tank rockets smuggled from Nigeria to attack army convoys.
The military reported rebel rocket attacks on a military convoy in the western village of Bammssing in the past week have killed at least 15 troops and 13 civilians, and destroyed several armored vehicles.
Cameroon Defense Minister Joseph Beti Assomo said Wednesday from a military base in Bamenda, an English-speaking western town, that President Paul Biya wants a change of military strategy in handling the separatist crisis.
Without providing details on strategic changes, Assomo said Biya wants his military to immediately stop the attacks on government troops by separatists equipped with increasingly sophisticated weapons. He added that military intelligence indicates fighters are benefiting from outside human and material support.
The military said rebels attacked government troops with anti-tank rockets four times this week in western villages, including Sabga.
Assomo said troops have been adequately equipped and deployed to separatist hot spots in English-speaking western regions, especially on the border with Nigeria, suspected to be the origin of the anti-tank rockets.
Issa Tchiroma Bakary, Cameroon’s minister of employment and vocational training, said English-speaking civilians should help government troops by reporting those suspected of smuggling separatist weapons from neighboring Nigeria.
“We need the support of our population,” he said. “Please, denounce them. Decry it [killing]. The kind of arms they [separatists] are using is an indication that there is a kind of support they [fighters] are receiving from abroad.”
In August, Cameroon and Nigeria said Cameroon separatists, called the Ambazonia Defense Forces, and Indigenous People of Biafra, a group that wants a breakaway state in southeast Nigeria, were partnering to create an alliance.
Prince Ekosso, president of the opposition United Socialist Democratic Party, said Biya should call for a cease-fire to spare the lives of troops, civilians and separatists.
“It is time to end the war [crisis],” he said. “Everybody in the [English-speaking western regions] is bleeding in his or her heart and the whole country is bleeding. It is not helping us, it will not help us.”
Separatists have congratulated fighters on social media platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp for using anti-tank rocket launchers to kill Cameroon troops. Videos circulating online appear to show separatist fighters asking for more anti-tank rocket launchers to fight the Cameroon military.
Cameroon has previously said that separatists use porous borders to import weapons through Nigeria.
Cameroonian and Nigerian authorities met in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, August 26 to 28 and agreed to jointly fight armed separatists in both countries. They also promised to stop arms trafficking in the two countries.