Cameroonians are fleeing the northwestern village of Ngarr-buh after the military began building a base this week near where troops in February massacred at least 13 civilians. Cameroon says the base is needed to stop separatists from getting supplies in neighboring Nigeria. But, villagers fear they may once again be targeted or get caught in crossfire.
Twenty-two-year-old Cameroonian farmer Emelda Tatah says she and her family were among around a hundred villagers who fled Ngarr-buh on Sunday morning after several military trucks full of troops arrived.
The troops began constructing buildings for a military base to fight off anglophone rebels in the area.
Speaking via a messaging application from the neighboring village of Ngondzen, Tatah said the military’s massacre in their village was still fresh in their minds.
"On the 14th of February, military people entered Ngarr-buh and killed many women and innocent children," she said. "The military has built a camp in the village again and the villagers think that this same military that was supposed to protect them [villagers] they [military] are the very people killing them [villagers]. So, they have to flee to neighboring villages where they feel they will be more secured."
Cameroonian rights groups and opposition political parties have criticized the base in Ngarr-buh, saying it will only increase tensions with villagers.
They estimate over 300 villagers have fled Ngarr-buh within the past week.
National President of the United Socialist Democratic Party Prince Ekosso says the military presence in the village is uncalled for.
"Why establish a military base in Ngarr-buh, where the military has been accused of massacring civilians, children, women, pregnant women," he said. "We are calling on the government to retrieve [stop] the initiative of establishing a military base in Ngarr-buh. And we call on the international community to put their eyes [pay attention] on this particular situation in Ngarr-buh. The use of force has never resolved any conflict."
Despite the ongoing tensions between the villagers and military, Cameroon authorities say the new military base is needed to stop rebels from re-supplying in neighboring Nigeria.
Speaking Sunday on state radio, Cameroon government spokesman Rene Emmanuel Sadi defended the base as a needed defense against the rebels.
Although troops had killed civilians, said Sadi, most atrocities in the area were committed by the separatists.
He said most of the rebel fighters in Ngarr-buh disguised themselves as Cameroon troops to commit atrocities on villagers just to give troops a bad image and make civilians hate their military. Sadi said the troops are out to protect civilians from the rebels, who are stealing, raping, abducting for ransom, and making life very difficult in Cameroon’s English-speaking regions. He says the troops will protect Cameroon’s border with Nigeria and stop the separatists from using the border for supplies.
Human Rights Watch said in April the attack in Ngarr-buh was part of a larger pattern of rights violations by Cameroon’s military in the anglophone regions.
Cameroon’s president, Paul Biya, admitted in April troops committed the massacre after an international outcry when authorities initially denied it.
Biya ordered the arrest of troops that attempted to cover up the deaths by burning homes and filing a false report.
Some 600 villagers in Ngarr-buh had fled immediately following the atrocity.
The separatists have been fighting since 2017 to carve out an English-speaking state from French-speaking-majority Cameroon.
The United Nations says the fighting has cost more than 3,000 lives and forced half-a-million to flee to French-speaking regions or into neighboring Nigeria.