SANGMELIMA, CAMEROON - Several hundred people from Cameroon, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea have escaped the southern Cameroon commercial town of Sangmelima following violent conflicts and looting between communities there, where townspeople claim outsiders are causing mounting insecurity. Cameroon has deployed at least 300 troops to Sangmelima.
Hundreds of people, especially youths armed with machetes, hammers, spades and spears, defied antiriot police Thursday and Friday, invading shops in Cameroon's southern town of Sangmelima, looting and torching some over resentment of outsiders. Among their victims is 46-year-old motor spare parts dealer Romouald Mefirou, who said he fled for his life.
"Within 24 hours I have lost everything I took 23 years to invest in this town. I do not want to lose my life so I have to leave with my family. It is a deplorable situation," he said,
Felix Nguele Nguele, governor of Sangmelima's South region of Cameroon, said Mefirou, who is from Cameroon's western town of Foumban, is just one of hundreds of people who have fled since the violence erupted October 9.
Nguele Nguele said the violence intensified when outsiders were suspected in the killing of a 27-year-old local motorcycle taxi driver. He says he requested and got more than 200 troops from Cameroon's capital city, Yaounde, to reinforce security and stop the bloody attacks and the looting of shops and houses that has paralyzed business.
The conflict started when the motorcycle taxi driver was found dead in the town. Locals blamed people from other Cameroon towns who live in Sangmelima of causing insecurity, pointing to increasing aggression stealing and rape.
The government said besides Cameroonians who are migrants, immigrants from neighboring Gabon and Equatorial Guinea had also escaped to safety after at least 20 people were severely wounded by rampaging youths, who attacked people they considered foreigners.
The youths have always complained that the influx of who they call foreign citizens to their town to work in cocoa, banana and cassava plantations and others as merchants deprive them of jobs.
Cameroon Higher Education Minister Jacques Fame Ndongo, who was born near Sangmelima, attended a crisis meeting October 12 and condemned the attacks and looting. He said the government has taken note of the youths' grievances but that Cameroonians from its over 260 tribes and foreign citizens with residence permits are free to live and do business wherever they want in the central African state.
He says no community should be stigmatized because all of them are Cameroonians and should feel free wherever they live. He says the government has taken note of all the grievances raised by the population and will attend to them according to the means available. He says he is insisting that the youths relinquish their weapons because peace should return.
Cameroon's South region has been the country's most peaceful. Cameroon has been battling the Boko Haram insurgency on its northern border with Nigeria, fighting rebels who cross over from the troubled Central African Republic to attack communities in the east for supplies, containing piracy in the Gulf of Guinea to the west and, recently, a separatist crisis that has killed at least 2,000 in the English-speaking North West and South West regions.