Thousands flee as violence erupts in Cameroon

123

Thousands fled a fresh flare-up of violence in Cameroon’s separatist English-speaking regions, a local security source and a government source said.

The army said separatists attacked a police unit in Ndop, but did not mention other incidents.

“The gendarmes who were attacked sought refuge nearby,” an army spokesman said in a statement. “Bullets shot at them brutally killed two citizens and a baby.”

Separatist leaders could not immediately be reached for comment, but both government and the militants are accused of gratuitous violence, including killing of civilians. In June, Human Rights Watch accused both sides of rights abuses and of acting with impunity.

The insurgency erupted in late 2017 following a government crackdown on peaceful protests in the Anglophone Northwest and Southwest regions. Since then, fighting killed about 1 800 and displaced over 500 000 according to UN estimates.

The local security source, speaking on condition of anonymity said the latest fighting killed at least 34 and forced thousands from their homes.

A local government source said there were killings every day, though he was not sure about the numbers of dead. He added thousands were displaced.

Authorities did not respond to requests for comment on casualties or displaced people.

SCHOOL BOYCOTT

The start of the school year in September is a tense time in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions. Separatists imposed a school boycott as part of protest against President Paul Biya’s French-speaking government.

As of June 2019, at least half the schools in affected regions were closed due to attacks or the threat of violence, depriving more than 600 000 children of an education, according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Residents of Bamenda said the flare-up followed a court’s handing life sentences to 10 separatist leaders, including Julius Ayuk Tabe, a key figure in the Anglophone movement.

“As soon as they sentenced Ayuk, I knew the situation would worsen,” said Stephie, who asked to be referred to by her first name only. She left Bamenda by bus with her husband and three children.

“I knew people would die. I preferred to flee.”



The Bamenda bus station was packed with people seeking to escape the violence, she said.