Cameroonian police officers, assisted by members of the country's elite corps, seized hundreds of containers of fuel illegally transported from Nigeria by suspected Central African Republic rebels in the northern town of Mbe, Cameroon.
Rigobert Ojong, a member of a task force of military, police and civil society members created three weeks ago to stop the illegal fuel trade, said the group received a tip that the fuel was on its way to the C.A.R., where it would be used by rebels fighting the central African state's government.
"We have put aside personnel dedicated to this fight, within the framework of this task force, and we have been able to intercept about 1,500 drums of fraudulently imported fuel. If we go by the price in the black market, we are talking about more than 3 billion CFA francs [$5 million] a year," Ojong said.
Cameroon's government says an unknown quantity of oil is smuggled from Nigeria through its territory because the border is so porous. The military says it has opened an investigation to track dealers who might be collaborating with rebel groups in the C.A.R.
Businessman Patrice Essola, who supplies fuel to the C.A.R. from Cameroon, says illegal trade with C.A.R. rebels is facilitated by corrupt government officials in both countries.
He said the rebels and traffickers work in collaboration with corrupt Cameroonian military officials and C.A.R. border immigration staff to import the fuel from Nigeria. Some of the tankers and trucks that smuggle the fuel are even protected by corrupt officials while in Cameroon and in the C.A.R., Essola added.
Kildadi Taguieke Boukar, governor of the Adamawa region that shares a border with the C.A.R., denies corrupt military officials assist rebels and smugglers, but said investigations had been opened.
Each time the traffickers are arrested, they answer charges in courts of law, Boukar said, but added the task is very, very difficult because Cameroon's borders with Nigeria and the C.A.R. are very porous. All of the fuel will be taken to C.A.R. authorities, he said.
C.A.R. violence, peace deal
In January, Cameroon said 300 of its citizens had been abducted by suspected C.A.R. rebels within the past two years, along with at least 5,000 cattle. Local border communities asked the government to authorize self-defense groups to be equipped with guns to face rebels who they said continued to cross to their villages for supplies.
The C.A.R. was plunged into turmoil in 2013 when Muslim rebels known as the Seleka seized power in the majority-Christian country. A band of mostly Christian militias, called the anti-Balaka, rose up to counter the Seleka. Thousands of people have been killed in the violence and more than one million are internally displaced. An estimated 570,000 people have fled to neighboring countries, with about 350,000 in Cameroon.
On Feb. 2, the U.N. mission in the C.A.R., known as MINUSCA, and the African Union announced that a peace deal between the C.A.R. government and 14 rebel groups had been reached after sponsored talks in Sudan. They called on the C.A.R.'s neighbors to help bring peace by not allowing their borders to be used for supplies or as a hiding ground for fighters who refuse to respect the deal.