DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — Civilians are caught in a deadly escalation of violence in Cameroon between security forces and separatists seeking an English-speaking state, Amnesty International said in a new report Tuesday.
The human rights group called for an end to “unnecessary and excessive force” on both sides and for authorities to ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice.
Cameroon’s unrest began in November 2016 when English-speaking teachers and lawyers in the northwest and southwest began calling for reforms and greater autonomy, criticizing what they called the marginalization of the Anglophone population by French speakers. The English-speaking community accounts for about one-fifth of the country’s 25 million people.
A government crackdown, including arrests and an internet shutdown, followed. English-language separatists then picked up the momentum, calling for an independent state.
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The fighters have burned down schools and killed at least 44 members of security forces in the past year, the report says. They have vowed to paralyze the country until their leader Ayuk Tabe, who declared himself the president of the English-speaking Republic of Ambazonia, is released. He was arrested in December with 48 others in neighboring Nigeria and extradited to Cameroon.
Security forces have responded with arbitrary arrests and unlawful killings, the new report says.
In interviews with more than 150 victims and witnesses, people told Amnesty International they were blindfolded, gagged and beaten with shovels, hammers, planks and cables.
“Security forces have indiscriminately killed, arrested and tortured people during military operations which have also displaced thousands of civilians,” said Samira Daoud, Amnesty International’s deputy director for West and Central Africa.
For their part, the separatists have “also carried out attacks designed to strike fear amongst the population, going as far as burning down schools and targeting teachers who did not enforce the boycott,” Daoud said.
Cameroon’s government spokesman Issa Tchiroma Bakary said the government was reading the report and would address it Wednesday.
Both sides are to blame but the separatists are winning the hearts and minds of the people, Felix Nkongho Agbor Balla, former president of Cameroon’s Anglophone Civil Society Consortium, told The Associated Press.
“The solution is for us to have a truce, for the government to try to stretch a hand to the separatists and equally for them to realize this is a political problem without resorting to people being killed,” he said. “If the government doesn’t find a way to talk to the leaders … it will get worse.”
He warned that some people are becoming radicalized by abuses at the hands of security forces.
Meanwhile, he said, the separatist groups are becoming more emboldened, kidnapping more people and carrying out more attacks.
Bakary, the government spokesman, said there is ongoing dialogue but “we have not negotiated with the separatists because they want to divide Cameroon.”
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