VOA | YAOUNDE, CAMEROON — Cameroon’s military has released about 30 youths it detained as suspected rebels after a protest by several hundred women, including mothers of those detained. The women from the Southwestern town of Ekona also accused Cameroon’s military of committing abuses in the region, which it denies.
In a video posted on social media, several hundred women celebrated on the streets of Buea Wednesday after Cameroon’s military released 30 young men, most of them students.
The military said the youths were detained during raids a week ago in the Southwest town of Ekona, where separatist fighters were hiding.
The women protested after the military stopped family members from visiting the youths in detention and chased away those who brought them food.
Speaking to VOA from Buea via messaging app, 33-year-old Akah Judith said the women will protest on the streets again if abuses continue.
“Although they have released our children, who were arrested unjustly and unjustifiable, we will continue fighting for our rights to be respected,” she said. “We will be here again should the military continue intimidating us, harassing us, and beating us. We have suffered a lot from these crises and want peace.”
The one-day street protest saw officials, clerics, and traditional rulers plead with the women to return home.
But the women refused to stop until the youth were released, later that day.
They also cited military abuses as rampant in Ekona, including intimidation, extortion, arbitrary detention, and torture.
Esther Njomo Omam, director of the Buea-based aid group Reach Out Cameroon, speaking via messaging app from Buea, said the women were also angry after a 20-year-old Ekona resident, Felix Obini, was reported killed Monday by the military.
“The women from Ekona came marching peacefully but angry that women have been bearing the brunt of this conflict,” she said. “They are the ones who have been burying their children, their husbands. They are the ones who are suffering all forms of ills as a result of the crisis.”
Local officials and Cameroon’s military refused to comment on the alleged killing of Obini and other alleged abuses, on Wednesday’s protest, or the release of the detained youth.
Cameron’s military denies its troops fighting separatists commit atrocities but has on very rare occasions prosecuted troops for abuse.
The government says the military will protect civilians and asks them to report suspected rebels hiding in their communities.
Cameroon’s military has since 2017 been battling separatists fighting to carve out an independent, English-speaking state from Cameroon and its French-speaking majority.
Rights groups accuse both the military and rebels of abusing civilians in the conflict, including rapes, torture, abductions, and killings.
The U.N. says at least 3,500 people have been killed and more than 750,000 displaced in the six-year conflict, most of them women and children.