Cameroon’s military this week launched an operation to weed out anglophone separatists in the northwestern city of Bamenda. Locals say the commercial hub is eerily quiet after the military banned motorcycles, and rebels responded by demanding all vehicles stay off the streets. Civilians have been escaping the renewed fighting to neighboring towns and villages.
Twenty-seven-year-old nurse Rachel Ngobising arrived in Yaoundé late Wednesday after escaping heavy fighting in Cameroon’s northwestern city of Bamenda.
“I struggled and I trekked for a very long distance before I could find a car that could smuggle me out of Bamenda. Worst of all, when I finally got a car, I had to pay five times the normal price [fare] because even the driver is scared. He was taking a risk,” she said.
The fighting broke out as Cameroon’s military this week swept the city of about 350,000 people, looking for anglophone separatists.
The commander of troops in the Northwest region, General Nka Valere, Monday announced what he called “Operation Clean Bamenda.”
He said they aimed to weed out rebels who entered the city after the military on Sunday killed a self-proclaimed rebel general.
“That terrorist, by the name Fonteh, alias ‘mad dog,’ has killed more than 100 people,” he said. “We are taking all the measures to make sure that Bamenda will be clean. Respect the decision taken by the city mayor of Bamenda and administrative authorities.”
In a Wednesday interview, Valere said there were several running battles between the military and rebels in Bamenda and nearby villages.
However, in Bamenda, locals say the streets are eerily quiet and movement in the city has become difficult.
Officials banned motorcycles to stop the rebels from being able to quickly attack and escape.
Cameroon authorities say, normally, commercial motorcyclists alone number about 25,000 in Bamenda.
Separatists responded by demanding all vehicles stay off the city’s streets.
Daniel Caapo is a Hong Kong-based, self-proclaimed deputy defense chief for the rebel Ambazonia Defense Forces.
Speaking via a messaging application, he says they announced the demand to support motorcyclists.
“Our citizens are relying on motorbikes to go to hospital and to provide access to critical areas of Bamenda,” he said. “Most of these motor bikers earn their living only providing these services and they cater for a large population of our people who have no jobs to make a living. We cannot allow this. We have to rise up in solidarity with the bike men and also to send a strong message to the occupying force [military] and to the occupying administration [government].”
Cameroon’s military has vowed to crush rebels who refuse to surrender and hand over their weapons.
The governor of the Northwest region, Deben Tchoffo, says people should respect security actions needed to make the city safe.
He says measures taken by the government and the military to protect civilians should be respected. The announced actions, and many others that have not been made public, says Tchoffo, are intended to ensure the safety and well-being of all civilians. He asks that all civilians continue carrying out their daily activities without fear.
The rebels have been fighting since 2017 to carve out an independent, English-speaking state from French-speaking-majority Cameroon.
The United Nations says the four-year conflict has left at least 3,000 people dead and displaced more than half a million.