YAOUNDE - The United Nations Security Council this Monday is set to informally discuss the separatist crisis in Cameroon for the first time. The discussion comes at a time when the conflict is escalating with many internally displaced persons from the English speaking regions escaping to the French speaking zones where some live in desperate conditions.
This is Cameroon’s Prime Minister Joseph Dion Ngute, visiting the English-speaking town of Bamenda on Saturday, begging people to ask their relatives who have joined separatist fighters to come back home.
Dion Ngute says President Paul Biya has sent him to say he is ready for an all-inclusive dialogue but will not discuss separating Cameroon.
As the prime minister went begging for peace, the military announced that the war against the separatists had intensified with many of their camps destroyed and at least two dozen fighters killed.
The baby of 38-year-old Flora Yenos cries at the Obili Catholic church in the French speaking capital Yaounde. She says she escaped fighting last week from her village Bafanji in the English speaking North West region. She says lost her husband in a battle with the military.
She says when she arrived in Yaounde, she and her four kids did not have anything to eat and drink and lacked a place to sleep. She says the Catholic church allowed her to lodge in a classroom and asked Christians to contribute for their upkeep after all of her relatives had told her they could not assist because they were already hosting many IDPs. She says her children are very sick and lack food.
Cameroon’s unrest began in 2016 when English-speaking teachers and lawyers demonstrated against the growing dominance of French in the officially bilingual country. The government responded with a crackdown and separatists launched an independence movement, saying they were defending their people.
The United Nations says at least 500,000 people have been displaced by the fighting.
Allegra Baiocchi, coordinator of the U.N. system in Cameroon, says their humanitarian needs are increasing by the day.
"We are fully aware of how many people are suffering on so many different needs where there is health, education, protection, violence and I think the commitment is there to try and reach as many people as possible," she said. "We have often said the primary responsibility for the protection of the people is with the government so our action has to come in complementarity."
Last week, Human Rights Watch said 1,800 people have been killed in the war and said it had documented cases of the government detaining and torturing alleged separatists and holding some incommunicado detention.
Iliaria Allegrozzi, senior reseach for Human Rights Watch in Central Africa, said, "We have compounded accounts from former detainees with information provided by former detainees families and lawyers as well as forensic experts who have reviewed and analyzed a number of photos and videos following torture or signs of torture on the bodies of the detainees."
Human Rights Watch says it is calling on the U.N. Security Council to condemn torture and incommunicado detention, and call for the government to end these practices that have persisted since the crisis began.
Cameroon territorial administration minister Paul Atanga Nji says separatists are responsible for the wave of abductions, killing and torching of public buildings including schools and hospitals. He says the government in its effort to bring peace will forgive fighters who lay down their weapons.
"We want to make it very clear. Those who voluntarily lay down their weapons will not go to jail. Those are instructions from the president of the Republic. They will be Cameroonians, I can call them born again," he said.
Analysts say since discussions at the U.N. Security Council will be informal, they just expect Cameroon to be condemned for its poor handling of the crisis and asked to organize an all-inclusive dialogue.