Human Rights Watch (HTW) says Cameroon's military executed at least 10 people while fighting rebels this year in the country's troubled western regions. The rights group says troops committed other abuses, including forced disappearances, burning homes and destroying health facilities.
In its report, Human Rights Watch said between April 24 and June 12 of this year, Cameroonian soldiers burned 12 homes, arbitrarily detained at least 26 people, and are presumed to have forcibly disappeared up to 17 others.
Cameroon’s military has yet to comment on the report, but last month the country’s defense minister acknowledged such abuses for the first time and ordered troops to stop.
The report, released Thursday, said the abuses were carried out in and around Belo, Chomba and Missong, towns in Cameroon's Northwest region, during operations against armed separatist groups.
In one incident on April 24, Cameroon government troops stopped, severely beat, and detained over 30 motorbike riders who were part of a funeral convoy, allegedly because the soldiers suspected them of being separatist fighters. HRW said about 17 riders are presumed forcibly disappeared, as their whereabouts are unknown, but they were last seen in military custody.
Ilaria Allegrozzi, HRW's central Africa researcher, said the abuses are causing untold suffering among civilians.
"We are facing a situation where the army, [which] is supposed to be protecting the civilian population from the threats posed by the separatist fighters is committing serious human rights violations against civilians causing frustrations and also more sufferings and leading to displacements," Allegrozzi said.
HRW also said serious abuses by separatist fighters, including killing and kidnapping of civilians, and attacks on students, teachers, and schools were also documented during the same period.
Ngong Cyprain, a 27-year-old sports teacher, said he fled from Belo after government troops torched his house in June. He spoke to VOA by a messaging app from the town of Douala, where he has relocated.
"I, just like many other people would want to go back to Belo, but how can we when both the military and the separatists torture us," he said. "My house was burnt by the military, I saw them burn my house. Before then, my wife who is a teacher was abducted by the fighters."
Separatist groups said on social media they will investigate and punish fighters who abuse human rights, but blame Cameroon government troops for what they call a majority of the abuses.
Contacted by VOA after the report was published, Cameroon's military spokesman, Cyrille Serge Atonfack Guemo, promised to get back to reporters, but has not done so.
But on June 19, during the installation of military officials fighting separatists in Bamenda, capital of the Northwest region, Cameroon’s defense minister acknowledged that troops commited grave rights abuses against civilians and ordered such violations to stop.
In June, Cameroon's military said it arrested four of its troops for killing nine civilians, including four women and a baby in the northwest village of Missong, describing the act as reckless.
HRW said the media and international community have been very quiet about the crisis wrecking Cameroon's western regions, making the armed conflict one of the most neglected crises in the world.
The crisis degenerated into an armed conflict in Cameroon’s English-speaking western regions in 2016 after teachers and lawyers protested the dominance of French-speakers in the officially bilingual country.
The military responded with a crackdown and rebels took up arms, saying they had to defend the minority English speakers.
The U.N. says that clashes between the two sides have left at least 3,300 people dead and more than 750,000 internally displaced.