Gunfire in west Cameroon town hosting African football teams

TROOPS and armed men on Wednesday exchanged fire in Buea, the capital of a Cameroonian region hit by separatist violence and a host city for teams in the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON), military and aid sources said.

“Separatists attacked several districts in Buea. Army reinforcements arrived and responded,” a senior military officer reached by phone told AFP on Thursday.

“It happened after the Malian squad had finished training it did not have an impact on the training session.”

The authorities did not comment on the incident.

“There were heavy exchanges of fire between troops and separatists,” Agbor Balla, a lawyer who heads an NGO called the Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa, said by phone.

“Panic grew as the separatists moved towards the town centre,” Balla said.

He said one person “wearing civilian clothes” died in the exchange, but this toll was not immediately confirmed by other sources.

Buea is the capital of the Southwest Region, which with the adjacent Northwest Region has been rocked by violence since 2017, when anglophone militants declared independence from the majority French-speaking country.

The central government in Yaounde responded with a crackdown.

Both the separatists and government forces have been accused of atrocities in the fighting, which has killed more than 3,000 people and forced over 700,000 to flee their homes.

Armed groups are regularly accused of abducting, killing or injuring civilians whom they accuse of “collaborating” with Cameroonian authorities.

Armed groups had warned before the start of AFCON last Sunday that they planned to disrupt the month-long tournament.

Teams in Group F Tunisia, Mali, Mauritania and Gambia train in Buea and play in the coastal resort of Limbe.

An opposition senator was shot dead in western Cameroon where a bloody insurgency has been waged by anglophone separatists against the state, his party and an official said.

Lawmaker Henry Kemende, whose body was found Wednesday, “was killed (overnight) by unidentified armed assailants”, a local communications ministry official confirmed on condition of anonymity.

He had been a lawyer and lawmaker for the Social Democratic Front (SDF), one of Cameroon’s main opposition parties.

The killing happened in Bamenda, a major town in the country’s northwest region which, along with the southwest, has seen a spate of insurgent violence by members of the regions’ anglophone minority against the predominantly French-speaking security forces.

“We recovered his body, his chest riddled with bullets,” Joshua Osih, the vice president of the SDF, confirmed to AFP.

The vehicle in which the victim was travelling at the time of the attack had “disappeared”, he added.

A senate official who requested anonymity confirmed the information to AFP.

No one had come forward to claim the killing as of Wednesday afternoon.

“We assume it’s the ‘Ambazonians’,” Osih suggested, referring to the armed anglophone insurgent groups.

Cameroon has been torn by violence since October 2017, when militants declared an independent state in the northwest and southwest, home to most of the anglophone minority in the majority French-speaking country.

Both the separatists and government forces have been accused of atrocities in the fighting, which has killed more than 3,000 people and forced over 700,000 to flee their homes.

Armed groups are regularly accused of abducting, killing or injuring civilians whom they accuse of “collaborating” with Cameroonian authorities.

Several SDF leaders have been targeted previously including John Fru Ndi, the party’s president.

Fru Ndi has run several times against President Paul Biya, 88, who has ruled the country with an iron grip for nearly 40 years.

Osih said separatist elements opposed the SDF because it is a predominantly English-speaking party that participates in the political process and is opposed to the partition of Cameroon.

It is the third largest party in the national assembly, the lower house which, like the senate, is dominated by Biya’s RDPC party.

NGOs and the UN accuse Biya of repressing dissent in the English-speaking areas as well as clamping down hard on political opponents.

(AFP)