YAOUNDE - Clashes between separatist groups in Cameroon have killed at least six fighters, with one of the groups allegedly abducting close to 40 rebels of another camp. Separatist leaders have blamed the clashes on infiltration by Cameroon's military. But the military says the clashes are an internal rivalry for power among the separatist groups.
Cameroonian rebel leader Chacha posted a video clip on social media Sunday calling for all separatists to unite under his Southern Cameroon Restoration Forces after clashes between rebel groups.
In the video, Chacha is dressed in a red suit, with a long black cross on the back, and standing with four supporters — all armed with rifles.
He says if anybody attempts to betray their struggle to gain independence, he Chacha will kill such a traitor as he is killing Cameroon soldiers that have been sent by President Biya to eliminate true separatist fighters.
Cameroon’s military says the self-proclaimed general posted the video after he killed several members of competing rebel groups.
Chacha admitted to killing other separatists. Villagers on Saturday found six bodies in Meluf village, in northwestern Cameroon.
Local media and the Catholic Church in Cameroon report that Chacha has abducted close to 40 rebel fighters who he accused of helping the military.
Tapang Ivo Tanku is the U.S.-based spokesperson of the Anglophone Defense Forces (ADF), another Cameroon rebel group. Speaking via a messaging app, he said the abducted and killed fighters were ADF.
Tanku said the clashes between rebel groups fighting to separate the English-speaking regions from the rest of French-speaking Cameroon played into the hands of the military.
"Our soldiers who were killed were initially kidnapped by Chacha and Chacha went on to kill them. So, it is a war crime and it is strictly a crime against humanity and the violation of the Geneva conventions. And this is exactly what the regime of neighboring Cameroon wants to see in Ambazonia. It violates the Geneva conventions for the respect of prisoners or war," he said.
Separatists have been fighting to establish a state they call "Ambazonia" since 2016. Tanku accused Cameroon’s military of infiltrating rebel groups to instigate the separatists’ infighting.
But the military says the clashes represent a rivalry for power among the separatist groups.
Brigadier General Valere Nka is commander of Cameroon’s military forces fighting against the separatists.
"I want to issue a strong warning to the so-called generals, the fake generals, Chacha, Tiger, Field Marshal and all the rest," he said. "We already know their hideouts, their whereabouts. We are going to step up military operations and, if they do not lay down their weapons, we are going to strike and crush them."
Clashes between Cameroon’s rebel groups have intensified in the past two months, with a number of attacks reported in the northwest and southwest.
The Bamenda Center for Conflict Resolution’s Innocent Fomo says the infighting may mark the beginning of the end to the separatist conflict. He says many people in the two regions are losing faith in the struggle for independence.
"The whole issue now is very confusing," he said. "They say they are fighting for the Anglophones. And now, they are fighting themselves and even the Anglophones. It is terrible. A lot of people are fleeing from the [English-speaking] regions because of the kidnappings and asking for ransom and there are the Amba[zonian] fighters kidnapping the people."
Since December, several villages in Cameroon’s Anglophone west have launched assaults on rebel camps over attacks on civilians and looting villages.
The angry villagers say they do not know who to trust, as they say the military commits similar crimes against them.
The separatist conflict has killed about 3,000 people, many of them villagers caught up in the fighting.