BAMENDA, CAMEROON - Football (soccer) clubs in the English-speaking regions of Cameroon are relocating to safer areas after a coach and players from a university club were abducted by suspected separatists.
The military says it has arrested at least 10 suspected kidnappers. But players say the abductions show the government is unable to protect its citizens.
Bang Bullet Football club of Nkambe is a second-division team training in Nkwen, a neighborhood in Cameroon's English-speaking northwestern town of Bamenda.
Team manager Ndi Eugene Ndi said the squad abandoned its base in Nkambe, 160 kilometers to the north, when some players were taken hostage by separatists and the team president was threatened for taking part in Cameroon's soccer competitions.
"We started reading trauma in players and in coaches," he said. "It is not easy. What we have in Nkambe as a fan base, what we have as community support and everything, we cannot have it in Bamenda but we will continue with the game. Football knows no politics so football should rather be used to get us all together."
Even in Bamenda, a town they consider safe, the team has continued to receive threats, Ndi said.
The danger was made clear this week when Ndoumbe Bosso, head coach of the Young Sports Academy team, was abducted by separatists and released fewer than 24 hours after.
On Wednesday, 20 students of the University of Buea football team in the English-speaking South West region were kidnapped, severely tortured and released 24 hours after their kidnapping.
Football associations in the English-speaking regions say activity has fallen by 75 percent, with at least 60 teams not playing. Many fans fear to go to pitches.
In a statement circulated on social media, people claiming to be separatists warned teams from the North West and South West not to participate in championships organized by the central government in Yaounde.
They also asked teams from the eight French-speaking regions of Cameroon not to play any matches in the two English-speaking regions.
Deben Tchoffo, governor of the North West region, tried to assure the public that enough security is in place to protect all citizens and the players. He did, however, call on people to help the government by reporting suspected separatists.
Sports analyst and former player Jean Pierre Ekoto said the separatists know that Cameroon, sports, especially football, is a very popular game that unites so many people.
He said stopping it by kidnapping players may push many people, both English and French speakers, to revolt. And the international community will add pressure to the government to pay more attention to solving the crisis in the restive regions.
The separatists launched a campaign in 2016 to win independence for the English-speaking regions of Cameroon.