MORA, CAMEROON - Officials in northern Cameroon say Boko Haram is hitting back against regional military pressure with suicide attacks. Rarely a week goes by without reports of a bombing. To protect border communities, Cameroon is reinforcing the capabilities of local self-defense groups who help the military.
Music is played to welcome 200 recruits of the self-defense group in Mora on Cameroon's northern border with Nigeria.
Among the thousands witnessing the exercise is Far North region Governor Midjiyawa Bakari.
The governor told the recruits President Paul Biya has instructed him to visit all border localities to congratulate and encourage self-defense groups and traditional rulers that have been courageously defending people from Boko Haram.
Regional troops said they have pushed the terrorists from much of the territory they once occupied. But Boko Haram has resorted to a campaign of suicide attacks, often targeting civilians.
The governor gave the vigilantes in Mora motorcycles, bicycles, metal detectors and cash to help with their efforts.
Dale Paul leads the self-defense group in Mora. He said they are more than ever before determined to eradicate suicide bombings in their locality.
There have been concerns about relying on vigilantes, including about the possibility of human rights violations. Last year, some members of self-defense groups were arrested and dismissed on suspicion Boko Haram had infiltrated their ranks.
But officials said the self-defense groups are doing much needed work that saves lives. This is their home, they know their way around, and they share intelligence with the military.
VOA joined members of the Mora self-defense group in the field.
Strong winds blow over the village late Tuesday. Eighty vigilantes armed with machetes, bow and arrows, knives, metal detectors and spears gathered to take over from those who worked the afternoon. While the military is tasked with protecting the nation’s border, the self-defense group makes sure no stranger enters their village.
Group leader Kaadil Ousmanou said they have been given cell phones to call the military when they see suspects.
He said they are sacrificing for the well-being of their village.
VOA could not join them on their patrol near the border. The military said it was not safe.
Mora village chief Joseph Manaouda said thanks to the vigilantes, the population can sleep at night.
He said self-defense groups may not have guns, but they have succeeded in stopping so many attacks. Manaouda said when the vigilantes stop suspicious people from crossing into Cameroon, they also inform Nigerian traditional rulers across the border. The vigilantes also communicate with Nigerian self-defense groups about suspects crossing the border, he said.
Several dozen self-defense group members have been killed in northern Cameroon.
Sali Ali Mahamat said he narrowly escaped death. The 44-year-old had been assigned to the islands of Lake Chad with his two brothers, who are boatmen.
He said two armed Boko Haram fighters forced them at gun point to sail through Lake Chad to a village in Cameroon. He said he knew that they would be killed after rendering the service so he attacked one of the terrorists and they fell into the lake.
Mahamat said his two brothers attacked the other terrorist while other boatmen called the military, which came to their rescue. He walked away with a bullet in his right hand and was treated at a government hospital for free.