Saturday, April 20, 2019

Ambazonia: Francophones want to take up arms [Washington Post]

The Cameroonian army killed five civilians on April 4 in an English-speaking village, Human Rights Watch said. While Paul Biya's regime claims to fight armed separatists, the NGO has counted at least 170 civilians killed in the last six months.In its investigation, the Washington Post tells how the abuses of soldiers radicalize the English-speaking population.

In this country of Central Africa, the combat zones follow the linguistic borders. About 80% of Cameroonians speak French, the rest of the population speaks English. For decades, Francophones and Anglophones have lived in relative harmony.

But for two years, the violence born of this linguistic division has brought Cameroon to the brink of civil war. The conflict has already left hundreds dead and 500,000 internally displaced, militants have been rounded up and jailed.

"They draw at random"

English-speaking armed separatists want to create a new country, Ambazonia [they denounce the marginalization by the Cameroonian state of English-speaking inhabitants]. They are accused by the authorities of terrorizing civilians and attacking government forces, prompting the army to retaliate.

But over a dozen interviews conducted by the Washington Post, Anglophones displaced by raids in their villages report that the Cameroonian army opened fire on unarmed civilians and set fire to their homes. Soldiers often arrive in the villages early in the morning, they note. But instead of looking for armed separatists, they shoot at random, sometimes leaving bodies of young men accumulated in the streets.

According to witnesses and victims, this use of force has led a growing number of moderate Cameroonians to support armed separatists, a development that threatens to intensify repression and increase divisions between Francophones and Anglophones. If the conflict extends beyond the English-speaking areas, it could destabilize the whole country.

The authorities deny burning villages

"I do not want to hear about Cameroon, I want to fight to create another country," says Daniel, a civilian who fled to Dschang, a French-speaking town located near a region English speaking, after government forces attacked his village and shot an old lady. He agreed to speak on the condition that he remain anonymous, for fear of reprisals, as did other Anglophone Cameroonians whom we interviewed.

At the end of 2018, the United Nations warned of a rise in violence on both sides.At least 400 civilians had already been killed in 2017, according to a report by the British human rights organization Amnesty International published in September.