Cameroon Separatists-for-Hire Suspected in Intercommunal Killings

Villagers in a western Cameroon town bordering Nigeria say armed men carried out a series of attacks from June 25 to 27, killing at least 30 people, including five Nigerians, and forcing hundreds to flee.

Community leaders in the town of Akwaya say one of two communities fighting over land hired separatist fighters to carry out the shootings, which the rebels deny.

Enow Daniel Kewong, the highest-ranking government health official in Akwaya, spoke to VOA via a messaging application.

“Since the incident was very horrific, we never had the courage to go to the field, so the injured were actually transported by relatives and villagers to the Presbyterian Health Center where we attended to them,” he said. “Most of the people that were brought had severe head injuries, chest injuries, while few had minor injuries. The severe injuries, we tried to stabilize them and referred them to neighboring Nigeria for continuation of care.”

Cameroon Presbyterian Church official Samuel Fonki said an unknown number of the injured died while being evacuated to Nigeria.

VOA could not independently verify if any injured from the attack arrived at Nigerian hospitals.

Fonki said the ethnic Oliti accused the Messaga Ekol people of hiring rebel fighters to carry out the attacks to try to force them from their land.

Separatists deny they were responsible for the Akwaya killings and blamed unnamed armed groups operating across the border.

Fonki said he was trying to organize peace talks between the communities to end the violence when the weekend attacks occurred.

“We were planning on how we can have peace talks to end the matter and then this unfortunate incident took place where 30 people including children, women, young girls, men and the old were massacred with support from some armed men. Some were even burned in their houses,” he said. “We want to plead that the government should put a very strong military base in Akwaya since that area is also near Nigeria.”

Cameroon’s government said troops have been deployed to protect civilians in Akwaya but gave no further details.

The intercommunal violence along the Nigerian border first broke out in April, when villagers say at least seven people were killed and plantations were destroyed.

Local clerics, community leaders and village chiefs called a meeting to seek a solution to the conflict, but the disputing sides refused to attend.

The allegation of rebels being hired guns will likely complicate peace efforts.

English-speaking separatists in western Cameroon launched an armed rebellion in 2017 to break away from the country and its French-speaking majority.

The government has blamed them for most atrocities committed in Cameroon’s English-speaking western regions, while the rebels usually blame federal troops.

The U.N. says the conflict has killed more than 3,300 people and displaced more than 750,000.

Source: Voice of America