Cameroon says over 250 former militants, including Boko Haram terrorists and anglophone separatists, have surrendered in the past year and are being rehabilitated. But former rebels say lack of trust in Cameroon’s military is preventing more militants from dropping their weapons.
A group of six former militants clean a pig farm at the Bamenda center of the National Disarmament, Demobilization and Rehabilitation Committee.
The committee says, in the last year, 130 anglophone rebels and 122 Boko Haram terrorists have surrendered for reintegration.
Besides raising pigs and chickens, the center’s residents – all former insurgents - also learn tailoring, carpentry, and how to grow vegetables.
Among those tending to the pigs is a 22-year-old who, for security reasons, we’ll call Ngumulah.
He said many of his former comrades fighting for an independent, English-speaking state in Cameroon’s western regions are tired after three years of battles and are ready to surrender, as he did.
"The fighters want to come, but they are afraid that the military would arrest them. Like my own case, when I went to surrender without guns, I was locked up for two months. Many fighters do not trust the military. They saw the military burning villages and killing people. So, for now, they don’t trust them."
Alleged human rights abuses
Rights groups have accused both sides in Cameroon’s separatist conflict, including the military, of serious human rights abuses.
Governor of the Southwest region Bernard Okalia Bilai denies any military abuses.
He said no one should be afraid because President Paul Biya, who is the commander-in-chief of the military, has given firm instructions that no fighter who drops his weapons as a sign of repentance should be arrested, killed or sent to prison. The fighters should trust their government, said Bilai, and be informed that they will be socially and economically reintegrated as soon as they disarm.
But Biya has also vowed to crush fighters who do not surrender, while separatists target those seen as traitors.
One rebel was murdered in the town of Wum in October just a day after he publicly announced his surrender, raising security concerns.
Separatists on social media acknowledged they killed the former rebel and vowed to attack Cameroon’s rehabilitation centers.
The rehabilitation committee’s national coordinator Francis Fai Yengo says they have increased security at the centers. He said they also do not allow anyone who enters rehabilitation at the centers to leave.
"The government secures them, secures them because they are also in trouble," said the coordinator. "Trouble in the hands of their friends who have not yet come out of the bush. Trouble with the society. They have done a lot of unfortunate and bad things. We do not want to have a problem in our conscience that somebody leaves the center and is killed by his friends or by whoever. So, when a young man stands and says look, I want to go back, do you think it is responsible for us to send him back?"
Yengo said when peace returns to Cameroon’s areas of conflict, the former insurgents who are rehabilitated will be allowed to settle on their own.
But it’s not clear when the fighting will end. Sporadic Boko Haram attacks still occur along Cameroon’s border with Nigeria while its English-speaking regions see regular clashes between the military and rebels.
The separatists launched their war in 2016, citing alleged domination by the country's French-speaking majority. Since 2016, the war has killed close to 3,000 people and displaced half a million.