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Catholic Peace Entity Condemns Ban on Commercial Vehicles by Cameroonian Warrying Forces

A police van destroyed in clashes between security forces and separatists fighters in Bali Nyonga, North Western region of Cameroon. Credit: Courtesy Photo.

The peace entity of Catholic Bishops in Southern Africa, Denis Hurley Peace Institute (DHPI), has condemned the ban on commercial motorbikes by Cameroonian forces in the Northwestern region of the country, saying that the ban has aggravated the suffering of civilians who are already caught up in the violence in the region.

DHPI reports that separatist fighters belonging to the Ambazonia Restoration Forces (ARFs) in the region have responded to the July 20 ban in Bali Nyonga, a town in the North West Region of the country by equally prohibiting movement of commercial and private vehicles on the major state road linking Bamenda, the capital of Cameroon’s North West region (through Bali), and Ekok in Nigeria.

In a report shared with ACI Africa on Wednesday, August 18, officials of the peace entity of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) say that the ban by the opposing forces in Northern Cameroon is adding “salt to injury” among the people.

“The ban on motorbikes by the government and the corresponding ban of vehicles by the separatist fighters has already negatively impacted the people so far and now the invasion by the military just comes to add salt to injury,” DHPI leadership says, and goes on to detail the chain of military engagement with the ARFs in the region.

According to the peace entity that is monitoring the five-year conflict in the Central African country, the July 20 ban prohibited the circulation of commercial motor bikes in Bali Nyonga for a period of three renewable months.

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The Catholic entity further reports that the ARFs responded to the government move by banning the movement of commercial and private vehicles on the major road linking Bamenda (through Bali) and Ekok in Nigeria, saying that they would only lift the ban on the condition that the military backed off from the region.

Journal du Cameroun has reported that the ban prohibits the movement of motorbikes for certain hours in Bali Nyonga.

According to the ban, any person or group of persons that will contravene the decision shall be punished in accordance with the provisions of the regulations in force.

The Cameroonian media notes that the ban comes few days after five police officers were murdered in an ambush by suspected separatist fighters in Bali Nyonga.

Officials of DHPI lament that motorbikes are the main mode of transportation in Bali in particular and the Division as well as neighboring Divisions, saying that their ban is unbearable for the civilians who are now forced to walk long distances on foot.

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“People have been walking on foot within and without Bali for agricultural, commercial and various reasons for almost a month now,” DHPI leadership says in the report shared with ACI Africa, and adds, “The mental strain it imposes on the people is indescribable as DHPI learnt from a reliable source that the military told locals they would be in Bali for 3 months or more until the ARFs are totally disbanded.”

Meanwhile, DHPI has reported heavy shooting between the Cameroonian military and the ARFs in an exchange that has led to several deaths in this month of August alone.

The organization reports that a heavy military invasion was witnessed in the morning hours of August 11 as the forces searched for a certain General Grandpa who is said to have led many attacks against the military forces in the region.

A source told DHPI that members of the military had sneaked into the village that night and positioned themselves in strategic areas.

“In the course of the gunshots, the armed forces broke into homes demanding the whereabouts of General Grandpa under whose command the ARFs have killed a good number of state forces and carted away tons of arms and ammunition,” officials of DHPI say in their August 18 report.  

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They add, “The deafening gunshots continued till about 10 a.m. causing many people to run into the bushes nearby. Those who could not make it to the bushes flocked around the premises of Saint Francis Xavier Catholic Church and the Catholic Health Centre, and spent almost the whole day there as we learnt from Fr. Reemla Divine, the Parish Priest.”

DHPI also learnt that some people were forcefully taken by the military and six motor bikes confiscated.  

The gunshots are said to have resumed on August 12, preventing health workers and auxiliary staff from turning up for work in the Catholic Health Centre.

When the shooting intensified, the matron of the Catholic health facility told DHPI that patients at the facility requested to be discharged and sent home for the sake of their personal safety.

According to the peace entity, the second day of the military invasion coincided with the local market day in Bali Nyonga and three people were reportedly killed.

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Officials of the SACBC peace entity report that one of the victims of the shooting was a young mentally unstable man.

Food items and other articles for sale were confiscated by the military, and the items deemed useless were destroyed, an eye-witness who opted for anonymity told DHPI. 

DHPI also learnt that men, women and children were seriously assaulted and asked to show where separatist fighters were hiding. Homes and shops were also looted in the raids and what the people had prepared to take to the market was carried away by the soldiers including huge sums of money. 

The peace organization notes that the invasion of Bali by the military is a retaliatory move by the State security forces in response to the five police officers who were killed by the ARFs on 18 July 2021 as the videos on social media depicted the killers claiming to be ARFs loyal to General Grandpa. 

The leadership of the peace and charity foundation finds the attack from the Cameroonian baffling, explaining, “The ARFs in most cases live in hideouts way out of the normal settlement of people. It is not clear why government forces will be searching for them among the locals.”