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Cameroon Sends Defense minister to French-Speaking Towns and Villages Under Rebel Attack

FILE - General Nka Valere, commander of Cameroon troops fighting separatists in Cameroon's English speaking Northwest region, Apr. 19, 2021. (Moki Edwin Kindzeka/VOA)
FILE - General Nka Valere, commander of Cameroon troops fighting separatists in Cameroon's English speaking Northwest region, Apr. 19, 2021. (Moki Edwin Kindzeka/VOA)

Cameroon’s government has sent Defense Minister Joseph Beti Assomo, to the border between the English- and French-speaking regions amid increasing English-speaking separatist incursions into French-speaking towns and villages.

Officials say many businesses have been abandoned and construction work on government buildings halted due to the increased separatist attacks.

Scores of people watch as members of the Cameroon military display military weapons in Foumban, a French-speaking town on the border with Cameroon’s English-speaking North-West region.

Warrant Officer Bouba Dawanga Syraye, the ranking officer at the military post in Foumban., says the weapons were seized from suspected rebels.

He says government troops arrested 10 suspects and recovered guns, ammunition and several locally made explosives. He says all the suspects and their accomplices have denied accusations of arms trafficking.

The military says arms proliferation in the French-speaking West region, where Foumban is located, has been on the rise since 2017. The military says English-speaking rebels fighting to create an independent state they call Ambazonia in French-majority Cameroon infiltrate French-speaking towns and villages with weapons.

The government says at least 40 deadly separatist incursions have been reported in the West region since 2017. Bamboutos, Noun and Menou administrative units, also known as divisions, bordering the North-West region are the hardest hit by the separatist fighters.

Awah Fonka, the governor of Cameroon’s West region, says the fighters attack and kill government troops, loot shops and destroy schools. He says the rebel incursions and killing have halted work on some government projects.

"We have recorded attacks at the level of several projects which would have helped in the development of the region," said Fonka. "The case of Babadjou, Bamenda, Bambotos [road projects], as well as the road leading from Kuikong to Bandjoun and especially the divisions bordering the [English speaking North-] West region and the South-West region."

Fonka said the military has been deployed to protect engineers on roads whose construction has been abandoned. He pleaded with civilians to help stop separatist incursions by reporting strangers in their towns and villages.

Fonka did not say how many government troops, rebels and civilians have been killed, but said the military was deployed this week to stop the incursions.

On July 15, Cameroonian officials said anglophone rebels were disguising themselves as military troops and launching attacks on villages and towns in the West region.

This week, Cameroonian President Paul Biya sent Assomo to lead a high-profile military delegation to French-speaking areas bordering the English-speaking North-West and South-West regions.

During a meeting with local military officers and governors of the North-West and West regions on Friday, Assomo said he was asked to encourage troops fighting the separatists. He said the government adopted a new strategy to fight the rebels but did not say what the new strategy entails.

Rodrique Sufor, who sells chicken in Mbouda, where Assomo and his delegation visited, says he is one of the many people who have relocated their businesses from the town of Galim because of regular separatist incursions and killing there.

"When we hear Ambazonians [separatist fighters] beheading soldiers, the situation cannot leave [allow] us that we can stay in peace, so we want the government to take the situation seriously by reinforcing the security around the area," said Sufor.

Sufor says many people have also fled from the town of Babadjou to safer French-speaking towns.

The government is asking the fleeing civilians to return and assuring them that the military will assure their security and safety.

Cameroon’s separatist conflict has cost more than 3,000 lives and forced 550,000 people to flee to French-speaking regions of Cameroon or into neighboring Nigeria, according to the United Nations.