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Catholic Peace Entity in Cameroon Reports Looting, Arrests of Innocent Priests by Military

Military men in Cameron/ Credit: Courtesy Photo

Law enforcers in Cameroon have been accused of harassing civilians through arrests of innocent persons including Catholic Priests and looting of homes whose owners have fled owing to ongoing insecurity in the Central African country.

Catholic Charity and Peace organization, Denis Hurley Peace Institute (DHPI) that has been monitoring the conflict in Cameroon for about two years now reports that the government deployed military forces in Kumbo, a city in the North West Province of the country following a recent attack at a college in the city.

The army has instead taken to harassing residents of the city that is covered by the Catholic Diocese of Kumbo. Some of the residents have fled and are hiding in bushes while their houses are looted by the military, an official of DHPI has told ACI Africa.

There have also been recorded cases of murder and torching of houses by the military that has taken control of the city, the DHPI leadership has reported.

Fr. Ngenge Godlove Bong-aba, former Parish Priest of St. Therese of the Child Jesus in Cameroon's Archdiocese of Bamenda who is now working with DHPI says that a number of innocent civilians have lost their lives in what is referred to as “operation clean up Kumbo.”

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“Following the fierce gun battle between military forces and the armed separatists on the premises of St Augustine's College Kumbo… a security meeting was held with the municipal administration of the Bui (Kumbo) Division in which the governor, Lele Adolphe L'Afrique revealed the plan of the government to rid the town of Kumbo of armed separatists,” Fr. Godlove tells ACI Africa.

He narrates that through the operation dubbed ‘Operation Clean up Kumbo’, a huge number of military forces raided the localities of Tadu, Buh and Ngamatse within Kumbo on the night of May 16.

“Most of the villagers, already aware of the security meeting, had fled their homes into nearby bushes,” the Catholic Priest says, and adds, “The military looted household items and livestock before setting houses ablaze.”

Over 31 houses were razed and 6 people, who could not flee with the rest of the population, were killed, he further says.

“The people learnt that the government forces were looking for General No Pity, the dreaded leader of the separatist fighters who has been a thorn in the flesh of government forces and led many missions in which many soldiers have been killed and large quantities of weapons carted away,” Fr. Godlove says.

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Earlier this month, the 33-year-old Priest informed ACI Africa of an intense fighting that erupted on the premises of St Augustine’s Catholic Secondary School Kumbo, where Catholic Bishops of the country had gathered for the commemoration of the Priestly anniversary of Bishop George Nkuo of Kumbo Diocese.

Fr. Godlove told ACI Africa that the war was not aimed to disrupt the religious proceedings.

“The provocation from freedom fighters or Amba boys, as the armed separatists are called, and the consequent response from the military which resulted in a sustained shootout between the two camps, from all indication, was not aimed at disrupting the religious exercise, but rather because of the heavy militarization of the area as the Governor of the Northwest Region Mr. Adolphe Lele L’Afrique was participating at the Mass,” he said.

He added, in reference to the religious event, which was interrupted, “The situation became as tense as the Christians were most of the time lying prostrate in order to avoid being caught by stray bullets.  Fortunately, the ceremony went on till the end and there were no human casualties.” 

In the Friday, May 21 communiqué to ACI Africa, Fr. Godlove who has undergone immense suffering at the hands of both the military and separatists said that Church ministers in the country continue to be harassed.

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In the communiqué, he makes reference to a particular incident on May 17 when soldiers arrested a Catholic Priest who had dared to go out and look for food for the people who were starving in their hideout.

“Fr Sylvester Ngarba, the Parish Priest was arrested by the military when he went out to try and get food for the people who had been in the Church premises for over 5 hours without any nourishment,” Fr. Godlove says.

He reports that the military accused Fr. Sylvester of spying on them for the benefit of separatist fighters.

“Fr Sylvester was later released after spending about 3 hours in the custody of the military,” the Cameroonian Priest says, and adds, “A mentally challenged man popularly known as Shu Fai was killed bringing the total number of those killed in the military raids of Tadu, Buh, Ngamatse and Vekovi to seven.”

Fr. Godlove recalls that the government undertook a similar plan known as “Operation Clean up Bamenda” in the months of September and October last year.

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Here, military forces were deployed to search for weapons, check receipts and invoices for all items found in the homes and to question people about hosting separatist fighters or knowledge of their whereabouts.

“It turned out that the military achieved nothing from this exercise, except that they enriched themselves as items that could not be accounted for in homes were either confiscated or their owners gave money to the military to reclaim them,” the Catholic Priest narrates.

He adds, “The truth remains that this operation yielded no fruits as armed separatists still wreak havoc in the city and with the emergence of IEDs, with detonations and attacks on the military a constant issue in Bamenda.”

In the DHPI report, Fr. Godlove has highlighted the changing dynamics in the conflict where armed separatists are perfecting their skills in warfare.

This, he says, is happening “against the backdrop of the government's die-hard approach to a military solution.”

“The days ahead can only get worse,” the Priest warns, and adds, “What is more, the military cannot expect the local people to help them to get the separatist fighters who are relatives and friends.”

“Until the government reconsiders its approach to this conflict and resorts to an all-inclusive dialogue, the local people will continue to die in their numbers and suffer many other inhumane treatment as the world stands by and watches!” the DHPI official warns.