Map of Cameroon, showing the Northwest and Southwest (English-speaking) regions

YAOUNDE - Cameroon has begun the campaign season for its December 6 regional council elections amid threats and attacks from separatists fighting to create an English-speaking state in the French-majority country. The separatists, who have vowed to disrupt the polls, attacked several military convoys dispatched to protect voters. The government is pleading with citizens to help recently deployed troops by denouncing suspects.

Councilor Emile Ngalla, 47, said he fled from Bui to Mezam, both administrative areas in Cameroon’s English-speaking Northwest region on Saturday. He said separatist fighters came to his home and threatened to kill him if he takes part in Cameroon’s December 6 regional council elections.

"I am not sure taking [I will take] part in the elections, but all I want to beg is that the government should enforce security for those who have the courage to do it [participate]. The issue of elections is bringing a lot of fear," he said.

Ngalla said he will stay in the English-speaking northwestern town of Bamenda, which he said is safer, until the elections are held.

Government officials in the English-speaking Northwest and Southwest regions say councilors and traditional rulers who constitute the electoral college are increasingly receiving death threats from fighters.

A video shared on social media appears to show an armed man in his 30s threatening to kill candidates if they do not stop campaigning and resign.

"I am coming out today to make it clear to the international community that there will be no elections come December 6, 2020. I want to advise all our people. you must stay vigilant. There will be no elections," he said.

Deben Tchoffo, governor of the Northwest region said besides the audios and videos shared on social media, separatists have been making anonymous phone calls threatening candidates and voters.

Speaking via telephone from Bamenda, Tchoffo said troops have been deployed to protect voters, candidates and election materials. He said separatist fighters who have intensified attacks and threats to disrupt the polls should know that they will be killed by the military if they do not surrender. He said the elections will offer special status to the English-speaking regions, as requested by residents.

Tchoffo said on Friday and Saturday there were several attacks on military convoys. He did not say if there were any deaths, but civilians said at least four troops were wounded and five military vehicles damaged in the northwestern town of Kumbo.

Friday, President Paul Biya dispatched his defense minister, police boss and defense chief of staff to the English-speaking regions to make sure the elections take place.

Defense Minister Joseph Beti Assomo said the population should cooperate with the military by denouncing separatist suspects in their community.

"I wish to highlight unequivocally that our presence here attests the government's resolve to provide an effective and definite solution to this crisis which keeps tormenting our people. A people who are only asking for a peaceful life, that is to live in a safe stable and prosperous environment," he said. 

Assomo called on voters and candidates to brave the threats and asked those who had left the region to return.

The government says the December 6 regional election will put in place the special status for the English-speaking regions as decided during the grand national dialogue called by Biya last September 30 through October 4.

The dialogue was to propose solutions to the crisis in the country's English-speaking regions. Separatist leaders invited to the national dialogue refused to take part and called the special status a nonevent, stating that they want nothing but total independence for the English-speaking regions.

Cameroon's English-speaking regions descended into violence in 2016 when teachers and lawyers protested alleged discrimination at the hands of the French-speaking majority.

The government responded with a crackdown and separatists took up OK? Weapons, claiming that they were defending civilians. The fighting has killed at least 3,000 people and displaced over 500,000, according to the United Nations.