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US accuses Cameroon of 'targeted killings' against rebels

May 18, 2018

The US ambassador to Cameroon has accused government forces of abuses in the fight against Anglophone separatists. Militants in the mainly French-speaking nation are seeking independence for two English-speaking regions.

Demonstration Kamrun Unabhängigkeit für anglophone Regionen
Image: Reuters/J.Kouam

US Ambassador Peter Barlerin on Friday called for dialogue to end an 18-month separatist crisis in Cameroon's English-speaking regions. The rebels want to turn the areas in the northwest and southwest of the country into an independent nation named Ambazonia.

Barlerin called on both sides of the conflict to stop the violence immediately. He said the month of April had proven the bloodiest so things are not getting better.

"On the side of the government, there have been targeted killings, detentions without access to legal support, family, or the Red Cross, and burning and looting of villages," Barlerin said in a press statement following a meeting with Cameroon's President Paul Biya on Thursday. "On the side of the separatists, there have been murders of gendarmes, kidnapping of government officials, and burning of schools.  People on both sides of the conflict have engaged in speech that dehumanizes the opposite side."

As a first step, Barlerin suggested that both sides "stop the violence immediately." 

Infographic showing Cameroon's English speaking regions bordering Nigeria

Origins of the crisis: The unrest began in November 2016, when English-speaking teachers and lawyers in two adjoining regions in Cameroon, called Northwest and Southwest, demanded reforms and greater autonomy. They were frustrated with the dominance of the French language and with what they saw as the marginalization of Cameroon's Anglophone population. The protests were followed by a harsh government crackdown, as well as internet shutdowns and arrests.

Protesters in Berlin rallying in 2017 against the oppression of Cameroon's Anglophone minority
Protesters in Berlin rallying in 2017 against the oppression of Cameroon's Anglophone minorityImage: picture-alliance/ZumaPress

In October 2017, the rebels declared what they called the independence of the Republic of Ambazonia and asked the military to surrender and join them or leave their territory. In December, Cameroon's President Biya declared war on the local separatist groups.

Read more: Cameroon confirms detention of separatist leaders

Tshirt Francophonization
Youth wearing a T-shirt decrying the francophonization of anglophonesImage: Moki Kindzeka

Ambazonia? The name comes from the Ambas Bay. The bay which is located in southwestern Cameroon is considered as the boundary between Southern Cameroons and the Republic of Cameroon. In 1858, British missionary Alfred Saker founded a settlement for freed slaves at the bay which was later renamed Victoria. Britain established the Ambas Bay Protectorate in 1884 with Victoria as its capital. 

Read more: Will 'Ambazonia' become Africa's newest country?

Presidential election: The unrest has destabilized the Central African oil producer, months before an October election in which 85-year-old President Biya will seek to extend his mandate. The main opposition party, the English-speaking Social Democratic Front (SDF), has selected its deputy leader Joshua Osih as its candidate to challenge Biya's 36-year rule. Osih comes from the Southwest region, and the SDF draws much of its backing from the two predominantly English-speaking enclaves.

Cameroon's English-speaking community accounts for about one-fifth of the country's 25 million people. 

Cameroon's President Paul Biya has ruled since November 1982
Cameroon's President Paul Biya has ruled the country since November 1982Image: picture alliance/abaca/E. Blondet

kw/msh (AFP, Reuters)