BERTOUA, EASTERN CAMEROON - Authorities in Cameroon are arresting people who they say illegally wear military uniforms in order to deceive the population and commit atrocities. There have been tensions between armed groups in neighboring Central African Republic, with a spill over into Cameroon, and Cameroon thinks rebel fighters are using the uniforms as a disguise.
A dozen military men forcefully open doors in Nyangaza, a popular neighborhood in Bertoua on Cameroon's eastern border with the Central African Republic. Nyangaza is home to hundreds of Central Africans living with host Cameroonian communities. Among the military personnel arresting civilians with military uniforms is staff sergeant Isidore Mbah.
He says they have noticed that the neighborhood is a hideout for bandits, who wear uniforms to trick people into believing they are in the military. He says all those they arrest will answer charges in a military court.
Last Friday military officials arrested 13 people, aged 17 to 37. Among them is 30-year-old Emmanuel Manga from the Central African Republic who has been living in Cameroon for three years.
He says he had been wearing the uniform to keep warm in the early morning cold since his friend offered it to him as a gift. He says he never knew that it was forbidden to wear it and that some military men had been seeing him with the uniform but did no arrests until recently.
Armed groups from CAR have attacked Cameroon on several occasions since the crisis in CAR began in March 2013 when Muslim Seleka rebels overthrew President Francoise Bozize Abuses. That triggered the rise of the Anti Balaka Christian defense groups and a cycle of killings and violence has spilled over into Cameroon.
Cameroon-born general Housseini Djibo, a senior military official in eastern Cameroon says the arrests were ordered because it was discovered that some rebels were disguising themselves as military members and committing atrocities.
He says there is galloping insecurity on Cameroon's eastern border because of its proximity with the troubled Central African Republic. He says they will do everything possible to stop armed rebel groups that regularly carry out incursions on Cameroon's territory and hold especially cattle ranchers and business persons hostage.
About 100 people have been arrested within the past 30 days. A 1982 law forbids civilians from buying, selling and wearing military uniforms and states that anyone caught faces prison time of between 3 months to 2 years and, or fines ranging from $100 to $ 4,000.
Even as the military goes around arresting people and seizing the military uniforms, some shop owners still keep them in stock as Moussa Ahminou of the Bertoua traders trade union told VOA.
He says some of them are still stealthily selling the stocks they had before the government started educating them not to sell military outfit.
Cameroon shares a 900-kilometer long boundary with the landlocked CAR and presently hosts 300,000 refugees from the neighboring state.