A separatist conflict in Cameroon that has forced half a million people from their homes is in danger of worsening, the head of a major aid agency has warned, condemning what he called the “international silence” over the crisis.

Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), said the world had underestimated the impact on civilians of the violence that has gripped Cameroon, where entire villages had been burned to the ground.

“I’ve been all over the world, dealing with humanitarian work for many years and I was really shocked by the unbelievable extent of this emergency that is underestimated, underreported and neglected by the international community,” said Egeland.

“There are atrocities every single day against civilians … and the world doesn’t seem to know or want to know about it,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by telephone during a visit to Cameroon.

Long-running tensions in the English-speaking Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon erupted into conflict in late 2016, prompting crackdowns by security forces and leaving 1.3 million people in need of aid, according to the United Nations.

Egeland said the violence had pushed tens of thousands into hiding in the bush without access to food or medical help, and meant nearly a million children could no longer go to school.

But he said there was a danger the situation could worsen.

“I really, really hope there will be mediation efforts, that there will be an outreach and an interest in dialogue on both sides that will lead to talks which can end this before it is too late,” he said on Thursday.

“I’ve seen too many places which started with a smaller conflict … and ended up in a war that no one could stop.”

Cameroon’s English speakers have felt increasingly marginalized by the French-speaking government in the capital Yaounde and in 2017 thousands took to the streets to demand a breakaway state.

The military stepped in and thousands of Anglophones fled the ensuing crackdown, which Cameroon authorities described as an anti-terrorist operation.

In a statement Egeland, whose organization is distributing survival kits to victims including food, tools and materials for temporary shelters, said there had been little pressure on the parties to stop attacking civilians.

“The international silence surrounding atrocities is as shocking as the untold stories are heart-breaking,” he said. 

A U.N. human rights committee in February criticized the “heavy-handed approach” of the security forces to the crisis, which saw medical facilities, schools and entire villages destroyed.

Allegra Baiocchi, the U.N.’s humanitarian coordinator in Cameroon, said the violence was hampering relief efforts, and also blamed a lack of funding from other countries.

“The violence has been characterized by massive human rights violations. Attacks against schools and health providers have reached an alarming scale,” she said.

“Negotiating safe humanitarian access is extremely complicated and it is slowing us down.”

Source: reuters

A global human rights organisation said on Thursday that at least 170 civilians have been killed since October in fighting in English-speaking western Cameroon between separatists and government forces.

“Government forces in Cameroon’s anglophone regions have killed scores of civilians, used indiscriminate force, and torched hundreds of homes over the past six months,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report.

The group based its findings on interviews with 140 victims, family members and witnesses between December and March, it said.

Government forces in Cameroon’s anglophone regions have killed scores of civilians.

“Since October, at least 170 civilians have been killed in over 220 incidents… according to media reports and Human Rights Watch research,” it said.

Security forces killed

Another 31 members of the security forces were killed in operations between October and February, it said.

“Given the ongoing clashes and the difficulty of collecting information from remote areas, the number of civilian deaths is most likely higher,” it added.

Who is to blame?

HRW did not explicitly blame government forces for all 170 civilian deaths.

It said armed separatists assaulted and kidnapped dozens of people during the same period, executing at least two men.

The government sent a letter to HRW denying “extortion” by the army described in the report, the group said.

The International Crisis Group has said the death toll since the start of the fighting has topped 500 for civilians and more than 200 for members of the security forces.

Anglophone crisis

The conflict broke out in October 2017 when the anglophone separatists launched an armed campaign.

English speakers, who account for about a fifth of Cameroon’s population of 24 million, have complained for years at perceived discrimination in education, law and economic opportunities at the hands of the francophone majority.

The anglophone movement radicalised in 2017 as the authorities refused demands for greater autonomy for the Northwest and Southwest Regions.

On October 1 that year, separatists declared the creation of the “Republic of Ambazonia” in the two regions, named after the local Ambas Bay. The declaration has not been recognised internationally.

“Cameroon’s authorities have an obligation to respond lawfully and to protect people’s rights during periods of violence,” said Lewis Mudge, HRW’s Central Africa director. “The government’s heavy-handed response targeting civilians is counterproductive and risks igniting more violence.”

Some 437,000 people have fled the fighting, according to the United Nations, which called Tuesday for $184 million to help the displaced.

Source: Africanews

“When I was twelve years old, they undressed a Tutsi girl in front of my entire school. They wanted to see if her private parts were the same as other people. She kept trying to cover herself with her hands while they pulled out her hairs one by one. I can still hear the laughter. Even with all the violence that came later, that was the most traumatic moment of my life. It’s still the image I see when I’m trying to fall asleep. The genocide didn’t begin until many years later, when I was twenty-five years old. I was a soldier in the army. I could tell the atmosphere was growing more and more tense. Our commanders were openly using ethnic slurs. There was talk of ‘wiping our enemies from this country.’ One night I was assigned to guard four Tutsi prisoners. They’d been accused of making explosives but were clearly innocent civilians. They’d been tortured. Their wounds were rotten and stinking. A major came to the cell at 1AM and ordered me to step aside. ‘These people need to be killed immediately,’ he said. But I refused. I told him those were not my instructions. He pushed and screamed, but eventually he stormed off. The prisoners were released a few days later, but someone followed them out and killed them. It was a sign of things to come.

Humans of New York

Episode Two                                          

There had always been permission to kill any Tutsis we discovered while on patrol. But on April 6th our instructions became very clear: every Tutsi was to be found and killed. It was even said over the radio. Our first official order was to drive to a nearby city and open fire on unarmed civilians. Most soldiers carried out the orders with glee. The hatred had sunk into their core. Let it be remembered that the killings were pursued with pride, passion, and determination. Soldiers fired indiscriminately at people walking down the road. I pretended to participate, but I didn’t pull the trigger. That night we returned to the camp and everyone swapped stories. They bragged about how many people they’d killed. It became a competition. Soldiers would radio from other bases, and say: ‘We’ve killed so many already. Why can’t you keep up?’ All of it was sickening. I couldn’t eat for weeks. But it was most traumatizing for the Tutsi soldiers in our army. My roommate was a Tutsi. He had to pretend like he was enjoying the murder of his friends and family. He had to laugh along with the others to save his own life. He could only remove his mask with me. And he was the only one that I trusted with my plan.

Episode Three

Our base was only twenty kilometers from the border with Burundi. After the first day of killings, I rode to the border on a bicycle– just to study the route. I knew that I was taking a giant risk. But I was a religious person. I was a Christian before I was a soldier. So for me, killing innocent people was more of a risk than trying to help them escape. Many Tutsi families were part of my church community. I had prayed with them many times. So when one of them reached out for help, I could not refuse. They told me their neighbors had just been murdered. They feared they were next. So I told them to gather in one place and meet me at midnight. I snuck out of the camp. I told my roommate to tell everyone I was sick on the toilet. When I got to the meeting place, I was expecting to find one family, but there were twenty-three people waiting. Many of them were too scared to come out of the bush. They saw my uniform and thought I was leading them to their death. But the mother of the family gathered everyone together for prayer. She said: ‘Lord, we are frightened. But we are going to trust our brother in Christ to take us to safety.

Episode Four

The journey to the border took nearly four hours. Our pace was very slow because there were so many kids in the group, and everyone was weak from hunger. We had to avoid the main roads. Thankfully I’d mapped out the route so I could find our path in the dark. All of us were frightened. Even if we heard an animal, everyone would jump. When we arrived at the border, I pointed the group toward Burundi and headed back to camp. I was confident that I’d avoided detection. Several days passed without incident. I even managed to run one more mission with a mother and child. But somehow news leaked out. And one night when I was returning from patrol, a Tutsi solider met me at the door of the barracks. He was out of breath. ‘You are already dead,’ he said. ‘They will torture you.’ I thought he was just being paranoid, but then I heard my name being called out on the radio. Orders were given to shoot me on sight. I left everything behind and began to run. I hopped over the fence. I didn’t stop running until I arrived at the border. The next time anyone saw me, I was on television bearing witness to the crimes I had seen.” (Kigali, Rwanda) 

Culled from Humans Of New York

How I wish this story could reignite the human feeling in most of our friends, brothers and countrymen, both Soldiers and Ambazonia fighters, who are currently fighting in the two troubled regions of Cameroon, to know the red line, in order not to cross.

Many are those who will brag on how many they have killed, and when you check, you discover their victims armless and vulnerable people, young boys, women and children whose crime, is only that they are who they are. At the end of the senseless war, who wins?

It brings to mind, this line from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar

Source: atlanticchronicles

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