News / Africa

    Cameroon Vigilantes Hunt for Boko Haram Landmines

    FILE - Vigilantes and local hunters armed with machetes and guns shout slogans as they gather outside the Emir's palace for a royal blessing to fight Islamist Militants in Maiduguri, Nigeria, Sept. 4, 2014.
    FILE - Vigilantes and local hunters armed with machetes and guns shout slogans as they gather outside the Emir's palace for a royal blessing to fight Islamist Militants in Maiduguri, Nigeria, Sept. 4, 2014.

    Cameroon has repeatedly praised the work of civilian self-defense groups in the north who are assisting security forces in the war against Boko Haram. Soldiers have given the militia some training and the state has now handed over motorcycles and bicycles so militia can monitor border areas.

    Hundreds of young men armed with machetes and knives sing of their vow to protect their homes from Boko Haram insurgents.

    Rise of vigilantes

    The vigilantes rose up last year as the Boko Haram insurgency spilled over Nigeria’s borders. Militants have razed villages, murdered civilians and carried out a steady string of bomb attacks in northern Cameroon.

    FILE - Vigilantes and local hunters armed with machetes and guns shout slogans as they gather outside the Emir's palace in Maiduguri, Nigeria, Sept. 4, 2014.
    FILE - Vigilantes and local hunters armed with machetes and guns shout slogans as they gather outside the Emir's palace in Maiduguri, Nigeria, Sept. 4, 2014.

    Self-defense groups have been asking the state for motorcycles and bicycles so they can patrol the hilly, hard-to-reach border areas. They hope to stop militants from infiltrating and planting landmines.

    At a ceremony, Midjiyawa Bakari, governor of the Far North region, handed the bikes over.

    He said thanks to education efforts, locals are sharing information and people in border villages have been massively joining self-defense groups. He called on the militia to stay vigilant each time they use the motorcycles and bicycles to go hunt for suspicious visitors and report them. But he said those that have been killed have not died in vain and the country will always remember and honor them.

    Local religious leaders said a prayer over the equipment.

    Booby traps and landmines

    Among them was Imam Moustapha Djibril, who lost his two sons in a landmine explosion just one week ago. "Allah, God the mighty in power,” he said, “we ask you for peace, stability and prosperity for our country."

    There have been seven landmine explosions in just the past five days. Thirty-four people, including 11 soldiers, were killed and another 40 people injured. Authorities blame Boko Haram.

    FILE - A portable display teaches children and farmers what landmines and hand grenades look like. (U. Filimonova/VOA)
    FILE - A portable display teaches children and farmers what landmines and hand grenades look like. (U. Filimonova/VOA)

    Self-defense group leader, Hamadikou Falama said at the end of February militia stopped three teenage boys they didn’t know. He said they had to search them forcibly as the strangers refused to cooperate. He said vigilantes found explosive devices the boys were planning to install on the road. He said they handed two of the suspects over to security forces. The third escaped.

    The United States has sent military advisers and equipment to northern Cameroon. Officers from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) are training Cameroonian soldiers there on techniques to detect and dismantle landmines and explosive devices.

    Cameroonian authorities say vigilante groups do not have the proper equipment for this work and have asked militia to focus on monitoring their towns and villages and reporting anything suspicious to specialized services within the military.

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