YAOUNDE - A new report from Human Rights Watch says Cameroon's military has killed scores of people and burned down hundreds of homes in its campaign against separatists in the country's Anglophone regions. Cameroon is rejecting the report as grossly biased.
Government spokesperson Rene Emmanuel Sadi read a communique on
Cameroon state radio CRTV, saying troops fighting separatists in the country's northwest and southwest regions have remained professional in protecting its citizens.
The communique said although soldiers in the English-speaking regions have been victims of relentless attacks from separatist forces, they have not stopped protecting people and their property. It added that in no situation have the forces torched houses or indiscriminately shot at citizens.
The acts of bravery and patriotism exhibited by the soldiers is exemplary, the communique stated.
That message has been repeated over and over in reaction to the latest report from Humans Rights Watch, which accuses Cameroon's military of killing scores of civilians, using indiscriminate force, and torching hundreds of homes over the past six months.
The report said that in one case, Cameroonian security forces attacked the village of Abuh in the northwest region and burned an entire neighborhood to the ground. It included satellite images and photographs as evidence.
The report also said armed separatists have assaulted and kidnapped dozens of people, executing at least two men amid intensifying violence and growing calls for secession of the northwest and southwest regions.
All kidnap victims were released, most after a ransom was paid, according to the report.
Ilaria Allegrozzi, senior central African researcher for Human Rights Watch, said since October, at least 170 civilians have been killed in more than 220 incidents in the two regions.
"We have accounts from victims with material evidence, including photographic and video evidence, satellite imagery, showing the destruction of homes and also medical records," she said. "Ahead of the publication of this report we have also shared our findings with the government. And we have sought its response which we have incorporated. Nevertheless we do maintain our independence and impartiality."
"Allegrozzi said Cameroon's government should do more to improve its human rights record."
"We understand that the government might not share all our findings," she added, "but we firmly stand by these findings and we stand by the victims of abuses we documented and whose rights we want to see protected."
Yvonne Mumah Bih, a civil society activist in Cameroon, also said the military is committing abuses.
"To tell you how deep this problem is," she said, "look at the number of youths that have lost their lives. Should we continue in that order? I say no. Why has it become a situation where civilians are killed? It is time we talked of humanizing the military."
Human Rights Watch is calling on both the government and the separatists to restore the rule of law and bring peace that has been absent from the English-speaking regions of Cameroon for three years.
The unrest began in 2016 when English-speaking teachers and lawyers demonstrated against the growing dominance of French in the officially bilingual country.