BAMENDA, CAMEROON - More than a thousand Mbororos, indigenous people in Cameroon, have fled their cattle ranches following repeated attacks and seizure of their herds by separatist forces in the central African nation. The Mbororos say they are being targeted because they refuse to join or assist the fighters.
Forty-five-year-old Mbororo rancher Laye Shaidou visited the Mbororo community in the town of Bamenda on Tuesday to ask for help.
He said separatist fighters seized more than 160 of his cows and 50 from his brother after they refused to pay $1,000 to help the fighters in their war to create an English-speaking state called Ambazonia.
"We refused to give the money," Shaidou said of himself and his brother. "Those Amba guys [separatist fighters] collected the cattle and kept it up there at one hill. They have a camp there."
Shaidou said he escaped a separatist camp with the help of the military, which said it recovered some of the cows and was working to return them to their rightful owners.
Jaji Manu Guidado, honorary president of a Mbororo cultural and development association, said Shaidou's case is one of many he has seen since the separatists began fighting government forces two years ago.
He said many Mbororos have fled their ranches and are living in deplorable conditions in Cameroon's French-speaking areas.
"They are a target because they refused to join the fight and now they say 'OK, if you refuse, it means you are against us.' And they [separatists] said that wherever the gendarmes go to or the military people, it is the Mbororo people that give them indication," Guidado said.
Other Mbororo people have escaped with their cattle to neighboring Nigeria, he added.
It is not known how many cattle have been stolen or killed, but Mbororos own about 70 percent of the estimated 3 million cattle in the English-speaking regions.
The abandonment of their ranches has led to a beef shortage and an increase in prices in some areas.
On social media, the separatists have denied their fighters are responsible for the attacks. They say the real perpetrators may be cattle thieves or soldiers who disguised themselves as separatist fighters.
Deben Tchoffo, governor of Cameroon's North West region, told VOA the government will take measures to secure the Mbororo villages and supply them with basic needs so they can resume their normal lives.
Cameroon's unrest began in November 2016 when English-speaking teachers and lawyers demonstrated against the growing dominance of French in the officially bilingual country. Separatists took over the movement and started demanding independence for the English-speaking North West and South West regions.