Separatists in Cameroon have abducted five hospital staffers in the western town of Kumbo. The rebels say they were retaliating after Cameroon’s military entered the hospital and arrested or killed some of their fighters. Hospital workers tell VOA both military troops and rebels abused them.
Cameroon’s Bui Unity Warriors separatists say they abducted five health workers from Banso Baptist Hospital, BBH, Sunday. Bui is an administrative unit in Cameroon’s English speaking Northwest region.
In videos circulating on social media, including WhatsApp and Facebook, the separatists say hospital workers were abducted in retaliation after the military entered the hospital, killing one fighter and arresting three other fighters.
The fighters were hospital patients who had been wounded in battles with the military last week.
In another video circulating online, fighters claiming to be members of the Bui Unity Warriors present a man they say collaborated with government troops, who attacked fighters inside BBH.
The Roman Catholic Church in Cameroon identifies the man as Shiyntum Sergius, a priest at the parish in Vekovi, an English-speaking village in Bui, who had also been abducted.
The Roman Catholic Church in Cameroon, The Cameroon Baptist Convention that owns BBH, and the Presbyterian Church all confirm that troops attacked BBH, killed a fighter and arrested three other fighters. The churches say in retaliation, armed separatists abducted five medical staff members from the hospital and the priest, who is accused of collaborating with the rebels.
Joseph Sahfe is a patient who says other patients are scared that the hospital may stop rendering services to the sick. He spoke via the messaging app WhatsApp from the town of Kumbo, where BBH is located.
“What will become of the patients who depend on this lone institution for survival? To the best of my knowledge, a hospital treats patients without inquiring who you are,” said Sahfe. “It is a neutral ground in the midst of a crisis like the one we are experiencing. Where will the patients go if she [Baptist Hospital] has to close her doors as Doctors Without Borders did?”
In a release Monday, the hospital dismissed rumors that disgruntled staff are planning to stop working. The hospital management said it will continue saving lives despite the challenges.
The military says its troops organized raids on separatist camps in Bui last week and killed at least 7 fighters, including two self-proclaimed generals. The military said troops were searching for wounded fighters hiding in the community but did not comment on if government troops invaded the hospital.
Nick Ngwanyam is a member of the Cameroon medical council, an association of Cameroon medical doctors. Ngwanyam says it is unfortunate that both government troops and rebels are invading hospitals, which are out to save lives and reduce suffering.
“We are pushing those institutions to shut down because hospital staff [workers] feel unsafe working under those conditions and therefore, we are putting the lives of the communities in danger and peril, and we are doing ourselves a lot of harm,” said Ngwanyam. “It doesn’t matter what the reasons are, be it by the military or the boys who are fighting, we are hurting ourselves, we are shooting ourselves in the foot and the government needs to take its responsibility and stop this war [crisis].”
The Banso Baptist Hospital says it receives several hundred patients each day. Most are victims of the separatist crisis in Cameroon’s English-speaking western regions.
Cameroonian authorities have always accused aid groups of helping separatists in the country’s English-speaking western regions, a charge the hospital has strongly denied, saying its mission is only to save lives.
In August 2021, the international aid group Doctors Without Borders, also known by its French acronym MSF, announced that it had withdrawn emergency health care services amid the separatist crisis. The military accused MSF of, among other charges, aiding separatist fighters in the medical aid group’s hospitals.
MSF denied the accusation and said its only goal is to save lives irrespective of whose life it is.