Cameroon’s government is praising U.S. authorities for arresting three Cameroonian Americans accused of supporting separatist violence in the country's western regions. The three, arrested a week ago and indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice, allegedly raised funds to abduct persons and use weapons of mass destruction in a foreign country.
Cameroon's government has for years been urging the U.S. and Europe to crack down on separatists operating outside the country. Government forces have been battling separatist groups for five years.
John Billy Eko, inspector general in Cameroon’s External Relations Ministry, said the arrest of the three Cameroonian-born U.S. citizens indicates the U.S. has come to understand that some people who sponsor the separatist conflict live in America.
"We remain cautious and vigilant because the indictment is perhaps only the first phase of a judicial process which began with our government’s persistence in convincing American authorities to take action [against separatist sponsors],” he said. “So, we await trial and sentencing. There are many, many more unindicted co-conspirators and accomplices in the United States and elsewhere who were not cited in this indictment."
Cameroonian lawyers in the U.S. say they have filed complaints against 200 Cameroonians and American citizens of Cameroon origin in the U.S. who are suspected accomplices to separatist violence.
Armed groups seeking to separate two predominantly English-speaking regions from Cameroon and its French-speaking majority launched their military campaign in 2017.
Eko said that since then Cameroon has appealed to friendly nations to take actions against separatist supporters working within their national territories.
On November 28, the U.S. Department of Justice announced the charges against Claude Chi, Lah Nestor Langmi and Francis Chenyi, all Cameroonian-born U.S. citizens in their 40s. The three arrested defendants are charged with conspiracy to provide material support to a conspiracy to kidnap persons and use weapons of mass destruction in Cameroon.
The U.S Department of Justice says in addition to more than $350,000 the defendants raised through voluntary donations, the three men conspired with others to kidnap civilians in Cameroon and hold them for ransom.
It says in some instances, U.S. citizens were extorted for ransom payments to secure the release of their kidnapped relatives living in Cameroon, with ransom payments subsequently transferred to separatist fighters to fund their operations.
"We have examined the case filed into court by the United States prosecutor. We had previously condemned kidnapping for ransom and the use of Ambazonia forces for personal benefit,” said Capo Daniel,spokesperson of the Ambazonia Governing Council, one of the chief separatist groups. “This war remains the primary cause of the chaos and the emergence of criminal gangs and cartels that seek to use Ambazonia to legitimize their criminal activity.”
Before last week's indictment, Christopher John Lamora, U.S. ambassador to Cameroon, had condemned abductions for ransom and attacks on education.
“I have seen a lot of videos where people are calling for violence, where people are suggesting that killing students and preventing them from going to school is somehow a valid approach to resolving social concerns. It isn't,” said Lamora, speaking to Cameroon state broadcaster CRTV. “The people in the diaspora, be they in the United States or elsewhere, who have been calling over the past several years for violence to stop. There is no question about that."
If convicted, the defendants face a maximum penalty of up to 15 years in prison for the material support charges, up to three years in prison for receiving money from a ransom demand charge and up to 20 years in prison for the money laundering conspiracy charge, according to the U.S Department of Justice.