YAOUNDE, CAMEROON - Cameroonian President Paul Biya said in a December 31 address to the nation that newfound collaboration between his military and civilians has greatly contributed to bringing about peace in the troubled English-speaking regions of the country. The president spoke of the impact of the novel coronavirus.
In a message broadcast on all local radio and TV stations, Cameroonian President Paul Biya said for over 10 years, his country has faced several external threats. He said the incursions of rebels fighting to topple the government of the neighboring Central African Republic is causing untold suffering among civilians on Cameroon’s eastern border.
Biya said that although Boko Haram’s ability to attack on a large scale has been drastically reduced, the Nigeria-based terrorist group still remains a menace to civilians in northern Cameroon, where kidnappings and suicide bombings have been rampant.
Biya said the most dangerous security threat the country is facing is in the western regions, where separatists are fighting to create an English-speaking state out of the French-speaking majority country.
Biya accused fighters of beheading civilians, killing children at school and torching public buildings. He said such crimes are a shock to human consciences.
He says his military will relentlessly hunt all the perpetrators and make sure they are brought to justice. He says he is happy that public opinion, particularly in the two English-speaking regions, have now realized that the so-called separatists are actually nothing more than murderers, and murderers of innocent children.
Biya congratulated the military for what he said was a significant reduction observed in the activities of separatist fighters. He expressed his gratitude to the population for collaborating with the troops by reporting suspected fighters hiding in local communities.
Biya said it has been difficult to completely stop the fighters because of support, he says, that comes from Cameroonians living outside the country.
Biya says he is appealing to all friendly countries to help stop the massacres in Cameroon by bringing to book all suspected sponsors and the organizations financing and running armed gangs in English-speaking regions of his country. He says a majority of those sponsoring the killing in Cameroon are hiding in Western countries. He says it is the wish of Cameroon that all those identified at the end of investigations as initiators or accomplices be punished.
Cameroon has always accused Western countries, including the United States, of harboring sympathizers of the separatist crisis.
Separatists have described Biya’s message on social media as a non-event and said they will fight until they achieve independence.
General Valere Nka is commander of Cameroon troops fighting the separatists in the English-speaking North-West region. He says while Bia’s message was being delivered, Cameroon’s troops were battling separatists.
"We have to continue to clear [rebel] camps to make sure that all those Amba Generals [fighters] are neutralized and then the population will live in peace," said Nka.
Nka did not give the number of casualties but said the raids on a few separatist camps were successful.
Eighteen-year-old student Elizabeth Shuri, who fled the fighting in his northwestern village of Kom to Yaounde, says many people are affected by the deepening conflict. He says Biya did not consider their plight in his message.
"I have a little one in the house. She is 7," said Shuri. "She has been in the house for three years. It is difficult for her to read, to write or to even speak fluent English. Most girls are no longer in school. We have a lot of teenage mothers, girls who have been forced into early marriages, girls going out of the region as IDPs."
Besides the crisis, Biya also blamed COVID-19 as one of the impedements to the country’s development in 2020. Cameroon reported its first COVID-19 case in March.
The goverment says 27,000 people have been affected with about 500 deaths. Biya said the separatist crisis and COVID-19 were the main causes of Cameroon’s 2.6% economic growth rate in 2020, down from the projected 5%.