YAOUNDE— Soldiers from the Central African Republic (CAR) who fled to Cameroon are refusing to go back to their home country. The men are complaining of insecurity in the CAR, where the rebel group Seleka toppled the president in March. They also say they may face charges of manslaughter in the CAR's courts.
The soldiers who entered Cameroon after CAR President Francois Bozize was ousted in a coup March 24, have turned down calls for them to go home. One of their spokespeople, Kato Djodiar, who remains loyal to the ousted president, says that new CAR President Michel Djotodia is not giving the soldiers any assurances they will not be arrested or even killed if they return home.
He says there is no question of going back because those who fought with president Bozize are wanted everywhere and they are not sure that if they return they will be secure. He says at this time those who fought with Bozize have been declared wanted so many prefer to stay in Cameroon for now.
Cameroonian officials say there are are 70 CAR soldiers in Cameroon who have refused to return to their country.
But the national Red Cross of Cameroon puts the number much higher, at more than 500 soldiers, a majority of whom were supporters of the CAR's ousted president. The government of Cameroon is reported to be uncomfortable with their presence as many remain heavily armed.
Government representatives from both Cameroon and the Central African Republic have been visiting the soldiers, trying to persuade them to go home. The leader of the delegation from the CAR, Idriss Salao, who is the country's deputy director of the civil cabinet of the presidency, says soldiers who left the CAR are still considered in active service so their salaries will be paid. He also says they will enjoy security if they return to Bangui.
Cameroon's secretary of state in charge of war veterans, Kumpa Issa, also joined the delegation. He refutes allegations that Cameroon is forcing the Central Africans to return saying 21 of the soldiers have returned voluntarily.
Many Cameroonians do not appreciate the presence of the CAR soldiers or the presence of the ousted CAR president Francois Bozize in Cameroon. 40-year-old Mireil Lambo, a journalist says Bozize's presence could destablize the border region.
Emmanuel Sandjong, a businessman in Yaounde, agrees. "Bozize has been declared a fugitive in this country," he said. "The fact that he stays in Cameroon makes it insecure for both Cameroon and for the cordial relations that have to exist between the Cameroon and the Central African Republic."
Many here in Yaounde say the presence of Bozize and his loyalists in Cameroon has strained the country's relations with the CAR. Three months ago, new CAR leader Michel Djotodia announced that he was going to visit Cameroon -- but he never arrived. Observers said Bozize's presence in Cameroon made him change his mind.