VOA | YAOUNDE, CAMEROON — Military officials in Cameroon say they have found a mass grave near the border with Nigeria containing the bodies of nine civilians, including five government officials, who were abducted by rebels in June 2021. Government troops were led to the mass grave by a separatist fighter who participated in the killing, but surrendered and joined a disarmament and demobilization center.
Cameroon’s military says government troops exhumed the bodies from the mass grave, located about 20 kilometers from Ekondo Titi, a town in Ndian, an administrative unit on the border with Nigeria.
Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Nguele said he led several dozen Cameroon government troops to the mass grave Saturday. He said they exhumed the bodies after a reconnaissance mission to the area, which is prone to regular separatist attacks. He said Cameroon’s government has asked the military to transport the human remains to Buea, capital of the English-speaking Southwest Region for families to identify and collect for reburial. Nguele said Cameroon can now confirm the individuals as dead and no longer missing.
Nguele said the victims were abducted in Ndian by a self-proclaimed separatist general known as 10 Kobo on June 15, 2021.
At the time, separatists claimed responsibility on social media and said the officials were abducted for collaborating with Cameroon’s central government in Yaounde.
One of the officials, Mabia Johnson Mudika, was killed three days later, while the other five were considered missing until the mass grave was found over the weekend.
Last month, Tamaya Clinton, a 24-year-old separatist fighter who disarmed and surrendered to authorities in Cameroon’s Southwest Region, said the officials were killed by separatist fighters. He promised to take government troops to the grave where the officials were buried.
The military did not say if Tamaya took them to the mass grave or not.
Bernard Okalia Bilai, governor of Cameroon’s Southwest Region, said the discovery of the mass grave once more indicates how brutal and insensitive separatist fighters are to civilians. He said the English-speaking elite should go to their towns and villages and ask fighters who are still hiding with weapons in the bush to surrender and be forgiven or otherwise be killed by government troops. He said the military will track fighters who have killed civilians and government officials since the separatist crisis erupted.
Bilai spoke on Cameroon state broadcaster CRTV.
Cameroon’s separatist crisis conflict began in 2017, after teachers and lawyers in the Northwest and Southwest Regions, where English is the predominant language, protested alleged discrimination from the country’s French-speaking majority.
The military responded with a crackdown and fighters took up weapons claiming to defend English-speaking civilians from what separatists described as extreme military brutality.
The conflict has killed an estimated 6,000 people and displaced more than three quarters of a million, according to the International Crisis Group.