YAOUNDE - Separatists in Cameroon have ignored calls to allow voters in the northwest and southwest regions to vote in next month's elections. Fighters have attacked staff of the elections body ELECAM and destroyed voting materials ahead of the official launch of campaigning Saturday.
Francois Louceny Fall, representative of the U.N. secretary-general in central Africa, says Cameroonians should support their government and make the Feb. 9 elections a success.
"We are here to make an appeal to all the stakeholders in Cameroon to maintain peace and unity in this country," Fall said. "It is very, very important that the citizens of this country vote and choose those people who will represent them."
Fall was accompanied this week to Cameroon by the secretary-general of the Economic Community of Central African States (CEMAC), Chadian born Ahmed Allam-mi. Allam-mi said failure to hold elections may jeopardize efforts to bring peace to the northwest and southwest regions, where separatists have waged a war for independence since 2016.
The U.N. and CEMAC envoys arrived in Cameroon as separatist fighters in the northwest and southwest mounted roadblocks and reportedly attacked civilians seen with voter cards and election materials.
Electoral body ELECAM said its offices in the northwestern towns of Ndu, Kumbo and Ndop have been torched and some of its workers kidnapped.
Patrick Esso fled from the northwestern town of Santa, where he says clashes intensified Thursday. He says he was abducted and kept in a separatist camp for five hours because he was found with a voter card.
According to Esso, it will be impossible for the elections to take place.
"The president of the republic should call for an immediate cease-fire," he said. "I do not think that somebody will go and stand and say he wants to campaign while the country is in flames."
The military has clashed with separatists several times this week, and says it killed at least 17 insurgents.
The separatists represent English-speakers who want to secede from the rest of Cameroon and its French-speaking majority. They have vowed on social media that no election will take place in the English-speaking regions they call Ambazonia.
In spite of the threats and attacks, ELECAM chairman Enow Abrams Egbe says the elections will take place and promised voting will be secure.
"The different headquarters of political parties must be known by the security in view to protect them," Egbe said. "Security corridors will be put in place for the electors to move from one area to the other... . Polling centers will be well protected, and also all the meetings of political party leaders will be well protected."
Political parties say more than 60 people have been abducted in recent days. The separatists promised on social media to free the abductees after the polls.