Authorities in Cameroon say anglophone separatists have attacked a francophone village that was hosting people displaced by the five-year separatist conflict. Officials in the town of Bongourain say the rebels torched homes and markets and abducted at least five youths. Hundreds of English-speaking displaced fled into the bush for fear they would be blamed by the host community, underscoring tensions with Cameroon's French-speaking majority.
Scores of people talk among themselves as they shop at the Bangourain market square. Bangourain is located in Cameroon's French-speaking West region, which shares a border with the English-speaking Northwest region.
Local officials say that usually, more than 500 merchants and buyers visit the market each day.
But attendance has drastically dropped for fear the English-speaking rebels may strike at any time, according to Bangourain residents.
Aboubakar Hamagabdo is coordinator of militia groups created by local officials to prevent separatists from infiltrating the town.
Hamagabdo said civilians in Bangourain are in pain and serious difficulties after a series of hit and run rebel attacks in their town within the past three days. He said dozens of houses have been torched, money and goods stolen, scores of civilians wounded, and five youths abducted by English speaking separatists. Hamagabdo said the separatists cross over using the porous border that separates English and French speaking regions.
Hamagabdo has appealed to Cameroon’s central government to deploy more troops to protect Bangourain. He also asked the government to compensate people whose houses and goods were torched by the fighters and pleaded with separatists to spare the lives of abducted civilians.
Separatists have claimed responsibility over the attack on social media but have not said if they will release the abducted youths.
Cameroon government officials say Bangourain hosts at least 800 people who fled fighting between separatists and government troops in the Northwest and Southwest regions. A majority of the displaced people are school goers in search of education.
Eighteen-year-old high school student Agnes Ngoran fled from the northwest town of Kumbo.
Ngoran said on Monday, rebels chased students out of schools.
“We escaped from our towns and villages in the Northwest and in the Southwest and came here for our education. Fighters should allow us to go to school. Children need an education; it is a fundamental human right. These fighters should spare schools from their attacks,” said Ngoran.
The government on Wednesday dispatched a delegation to Bangourain to assure civilians that measures are being taken to safeguard people and their goods.
The group of government and military officials was led by West region governor Awah Fonka. Fonka said separatists are infiltrating the region from Bui, an administrative unit in the Northwest region.
He said troops stationed along the porous border need cooperation from local residents.
“We came to make the population know that we will continue to take measures to ensure their security, but of course for this to happen, at all times we need their participation. We need them to give information to the security services,” he said.
Fonka warned host communities against accusing English-speakers of hiding separatists who infiltrate Bangourain. He said all displaced English-speakers in Bangourain are also escaping from separatist atrocities.
Fonka pleaded with English and French speaking civilians in Bangouran to live in peace and help fight separatists whom he described as Cameroon’s common enemy.