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Cameroon Says Separatists Frustrated by Inability to Disrupt African Football Attack Schools, Civilians

Soldiers patrol outside the entrance of Bafoussam stadium, Bafoussam, Cameroon, Jan. 14, 2022.

Cameroonian authorities say Anglophone separatists have been trying to disrupt the continent's top soccer tournament, the Africa Football Cup of Nations, which Cameroon is hosting. The military says rebels have launched small-scale attacks in the towns of Buea and Limbe, which are holding matches. Authorities have also blamed the separatists for the killing of a Cameroonian lawmaker this week.

In a video shared by Cameroon separatist fighters on social media platforms, armed men are seen shooting indiscriminately in the air while ordering about 15 children dressed in school uniforms to strip naked.

In the video, two armed men brandish weapons and threaten to kill any student who attempts to disobey the fighters’ orders. Other voices are heard ordering the students to lie down or be killed. The students plead for their lives to be spared.

Cameroon's Secondary Education Ministry Friday said the incident happened Thursday near Government High School Buea. Buea is a town in Cameroon's English-speaking South-West region.

The ministry says 15 students were on their way to school when separatist fighters stopped and assaulted them. None of the students was injured, but their school has been closed since Thursday, the government said.

The military acknowledged Thursday's attack on students. In a release read over Cameroon state radio, CRTV, military spokesperson Colonel Cyrille Serge Atonfack Guemo blames separatists for the attack.

Anglophone separatists fighting in Cameroon’s western regions to break away from the majority French-speaking nation have vowed to disrupt the continent's top soccer tournament in Buea and Limbe.

Buea and Limbe are hosting football fans, players and match officials for group matches for teams from Gambia, Mali, Mauritania, and Tunisia.

The military says it has been in running battles with fighters since the tournament began Sunday ((1/9)).

Twenty-one-year-old University of Buea student Clementine Yaji says many people have been wounded in heavy gunfire and shooting in the outskirts of Buea. He spoke via a messaging app from Buea.

"People have been shot, some wounded. We have been scared because of those gunshots. It is really tense here and students cannot study under such a tense environment so we are pleading with the government to try and see how they will resolve this issue [shooting] in Buea, he spoke via a messaging app from Buea.

The Cameroon military says the separatists have increased attempts to infiltrate Buea and Limbe. The military says separatists are frustrated over their inability to disrupt matches of the Africa Football Cup of Nations.

Police officers patrol the entrance of Bafoussam stadium ahead of a group B soccer match between Senegal and Guinea at the African Cup of Nations 2022, in Bafoussam, Cameroon, Jan. 14, 2022.
Police officers patrol the entrance of Bafoussam stadium ahead of a group B soccer match between Senegal and Guinea at the African Cup of Nations 2022, in Bafoussam, Cameroon, Jan. 14, 2022.

Capo Daniel is deputy defense chief of the Ambazonia Defense Forces, a rebel group in Cameroon's western regions.

"One Cameroon military man died in that attack, two others later died in the hospital, bringing a total of three Cameroon [military] casualties during this football tournament. We have also destroyed one armored personnel carrier of the Cameroon military. In addition to this, a Cameroon government school was closed down," he says.

The military says none of its troops died and none of its equipment was destroyed. Civilians say they saw government troops evacuating the corpse of their colleague after heavy gun battles in Mutengene, a town near Buea.

The military says it has killed several fighters around Limbe and Buea but gives no details.

The military also blames separatists for Tuesday's killing of an influential lawyer and opposition member of the Senate, the upper house of Parliament.

Nobody has claimed responsibility for Tuesday's killing of Henry Kemende in Bamenda, an English-speaking northwestern town.

Tamfu Richard, a human rights lawyer and member of the Cameroon Bar Council says the association of Cameroon lawyers has asked for investigations to be opened to determine Kemende’s killers.

"This is somebody who has always been seeking for social justice. My heart bleeds sincerely. This is somebody who was an outstanding lawyer within the Cameroon Bar Association, who was outstanding when he went [was elected] to the Senate. It is a shame on those who did that to [killed] him," Richard says.

The military says two other people were also killed by separatists this week in Bamenda, and three civilians, including two women, were abducted and taken to an unknown destination.

Cameroon’s government and the military this week said attacks have increased in English-speaking western regions since the tournament started, but that English-speaking towns hosting it are safe. The government says troops will protect all civilians and calls on people to cooperate with the military by reporting suspects and strangers in their towns and villages.