Cameroon President Paul Biya attends the Paris Peace Forum, France, November 12, 2019.   REUTERS/Charles Platiau
FILE - Cameroon President Paul Biya attends the Paris Peace Forum, France, November 12, 2019.

YAOUNDE, CAMEROON - Cameroon has deployed military troops to stop opposition supporters from protesting against long-serving President Paul Biya. Political opposition and rights groups blame Biya, who has been in power for 38 years, for rights violations and a four-year separatist conflict. Cameroon authorities have vowed to arrest anyone who tries to demonstrate against the government.

Opposition supporters say at least 12 of their members have been detained since Friday by what appear to be Cameroonian military troops.

27-year-old Christophe Nkemche says eight motorcycle taxi drivers in the city of Douala were detained and have not been seen since. 

He says armed men dressed in Cameroon military uniforms whisked off eight of his colleagues to an unknown location.  Nkemche says the eight men were arrested while reading newspapers and publications from opposition political parties.  

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Cameroon’s opposition leaders say the detentions appear aimed at thwarting protests against the country’s first regional elections and President Paul Biya.  

Biya in late August announced the elections would take place December 6.

Cameroon Renaissance Movement (MRC) leader Maruice Kamto vowed to disrupt the polls and called for protests.  

Kamto, who says Biya stole from him the 2018 presidential election, says Cameroon should first resolve its four-year separatist conflict.

"Our fight against the dictatorship is heading towards its critical phase. Despite the essentially peaceful nature of our struggle for the freedom and development of our country, the regime once again resorts to terror and judicial barbarism," said Kamto. "As I have said repeatedly, we want to get out of the dictatorship."

Authorities have not confirmed or denied any military detentions of opposition supporters.  

But territorial administration minister Paul Atanga Nji confirmed that troops were deployed and instructed to arrest any protesters.

"I want to sound a stern warning to unscrupulous politicians looking for cheap popularity with a hidden agenda that they will face the law in case of any public disorder," said Nji. "Administrative authorities have been instructed to take necessary measures to maintain law and order."

Nji would not say how many troops were deployed, but opposition supporters and locals say the security presence is noticeable in major cities.

Cameroon’s government has banned public gatherings of opposition political party members in most cities and towns.  

Nonetheless, Kamto this month has been meeting with supporters as part of what he calls plans to force Biya from power.