YAOUNDÉ, CAMEROON | Anglophone Cameroonian separatists have abducted at least a dozen people who were protesting what they said are the rebels’ brutality and crimes. The separatists claim the government of the majority French-speaking country paid the protesters to discredit the separatists, which authorities deny.
A video widely circulated on social media shows suspected separatists forcing a man and 11 women to confess that the government paid women in Oku, an English-speaking western town, to conduct street protests of fighters’ alleged abuses. The man has bruises all over his face and the women look tired. They were among several hundred people who protested in Oku.
The suspected separatists say within the past two weeks, similar protests took place in Njikejem, Manchock, Ngemsibaa and Elak, farming and cattle ranching villages in Cameroon’s English-speaking North-West region.
The Cameroon military said the video was taken by separatist fighters in Elak on April 6, and that 14 women were abducted, not just the 11 shown. They did not offer information on the missing three.
Capo Daniel, deputy defense chief of the Ambazonia Defense Forces, one of Cameroon’s separatist groups, said those abducted were hired to discredit separatists by government officials and members of the local elite who support Cameroon’s central government in Yaoundé.
“The group of people you see in that video are individuals that were arrested [abducted] by our forces in Oku,” he said. “The man you see in front is the ringleader. Twelve persons were arrested, four of them have been released, eight of them are going through interrogations, and anybody who is found guilty of collaborating with an alien and foreign government that is occupying our territory will have to face the consequences of his actions.”
Capo said a few fighters found guilty of abusing civilians’ rights were punished but gave no further details. He also said Cameroon’s military abuses the rights of civilians more than the separatists do.
The military has always denied it abuses civilians’ rights.
Government officials in the North-West region deny the women were paid to protest and discredit separatist fighters.
The government said similar protests took place this week in Mbalangi, a village in the English-speaking South-West region, where the military said four women were abducte, but did not say whether they had regained their freedom.
Fifty-six-year-old farmer Ngale Dorothy took part in the Mbalangi protest. She told local media that people are angry about crimes committed against women, especially separatist fighters’ widows.
She said scores of men have been killed by separatist fighters in Mbalangi village, and that the fighters rape girls and widows, and harass civilians who do not give money to show support for the separatist fight. She said the Cameroon military should protect Mbalangi villagers from heinous crimes committed by fighters.
Separatists have been fighting to carve out an independent English-speaking state in majority French-speaking Cameroon since 2017.
Human Rights Watch, in a report in August, accused both the military and the armed separatists of abusing civilians’ rights in Cameroon’s English-speaking regions. The organization stressed the urgent need to protect communities at risk and to hold those responsible for abuses to account.
The United Nations says at least 3,300 people have been killed and 750,000 internally displaced during the years of separatist violence.