Small window of opportunity for Cameroon to halt violence

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Cameroon needs a rapid and deep-rooted effort to tackle a crisis of violence in several areas of the country, UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said at the end of a visit to the West African country.

Violence spilled over Cameroon’s borders from Nigeria, Chad and Central African Republic, while crackdowns on separatists in the south-west and Islamists in the north-east caused long-running tensions to flare according to the UN.

Bachelet said the situation could spiral out of control and challenges are immense, with ten or more separatist movements.

“I believe there is a clear – if possibly short – window of opportunity to arrest the crises that led to hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people, as well as killings and brutal human rights violations and abuses that affected the northern and western areas of the country,” she said in a statement.

“It will take significant actions on the part of government and substantial and sustained support from the international community – including the UN.”

Cameroon was one ofthe most settled countries in the region until a few years ago. Now villages are burnt, civilians killed and mutilated, with children abducted and forced to join armed groups or used as suicide bombers.

Bachelet took part in three days of talks in Yaounde, including an in-depth discussion with President Paul Biya. She offered to ensure military operations respect human rights, which the statement said would help win popular trust.

“If they fail to do that, they will not defeat an enemy that thrives on civilian mistrust of authorities,” Bachelet said.

“In the meantime, civilians trapped between these powerful, if asymmetric, opposing forces are increasingly vulnerable to lethal abuse and violations by both sides.”

She said government told her about steps to ensure crimes committed by the armed forces are punished.

“This particular issue is damaging Cameroon’s international standing and undermining international support for efforts to combat armed groups operating on its territory,” she said.