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Catholic Peace Entity Concerned about Increasing War Tactics of Cameroon’s Armed Groups

A man kneels in the middle of Bamenda-Ndop- Kumbo highway in Cameroon's Northwest region. Credit: Denis Hurley Peace Institute

When war broke out in Cameroon's English-speaking North West and South West regions in 2016, the military of the Central African country mostly engaged “catapult-wielding youths” who had no training in warfare.

But today, the Cameroonian government is facing well trained and heavily armed non-State armed groups that have successfully launched offensives against government forces, Catholic Charity and Peace Foundation, Denis Hurley Peace Institute (DHPI) has said.

In a report shared with ACI Africa on Monday, September 20, DHPI leadership highlights recent attacks by members of the Ambazonia Restoration Forces (ARFs) against the Cameroonian Armed Forces and expresses concern that the situation can “only get worse unless” the government finds a better way to address the conflict.

“The armed conflict in the English-speaking regions of Cameroon that began in 2016 with a handful of catapult wielding youths has evolved with the use of Dane guns to AK-47s and now IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices),” officials of DHPI say in the September 20 report.

They add, “The non-state armed groups with no formal military training have now self-trained themselves in war tactics as the conflict escalated and can now launch and execute a neat attack on the military and capture every detail live on video. This is a sign that things will only get worse unless the Cameroonian government changes the dynamics and calls for dialogue.”

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DHPI has reported that in the latest attack by the ARFs, more than 15 soldiers of the elite wing of the State Forces known as BIR, the French acronym for Rapid Intervention Brigade, were killed September 16 when the militants attacked their base in Ngo-Ketunjia, a department of the Northwest Province in Cameroon.

The incident, the peace entity of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) says, presented the worst casualty situation against the Cameroonian government in the five-year conflict.

DHPI reports that the September 16 operation was executed by the ARFs under the command of the self-acclaimed Field Marshal No-Pity who has led other offensives against the government military as well other attacks against innocent civilians in the country.  

“The entire population of Cameroon and beyond were stunned by video footage depicting two military armored trucks ambushed by the aforementioned ARFs. Very gory scenes involve the two trucks going up in flames while the mutilated corpses of armed forces are stripped of their gear and tons of weaponry are extracted from the operation,” officials of the charity entity that is monitoring the conflict in Cameroon’s English-speaking regions narrate. 

“This attack took place on the Bamenda-Ndop-Kumbo highway in Bamessing Village precisely,” the organization reports, and adds, “It drew serious consternation from even the most indifferent to this conflict. Many have condemned the attacks, with the majority of people calling on the government of Cameroon to order a ceasefire and call for dialogue.”

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The foundation further reports the September 16 attack was launched a week after an equally bloody offensive that saw seven soldiers killed in Kikaikilaki-Kumbo in Northwest Cameroon by an IED.

DHPI has expressed regret that the government of Cameroon is attempting to keep from the public eye the gross human rights abuses on both sides and to give the impression that the situation is under control.

However, according to the peace entity of SACBC, civilian and military lives continue to be lost on a daily basis in the embattled regions of Cameroon.  

Meanwhile, the entity that is monitoring the evolution of conflict in a number of other African countries has condemned the pronouncement of a 17-day lockdown from September 15 to October 2 in some parts of Cameroon’s English-speaking regions, saying that only innocent civilians suffer when opposing forces in the country engage in the struggle for power.

The lockdown has been christened “the Guterres Lockdown”, named after the current Secretary General of the United Nations (UN), Antonio Guterres.

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DHPI officials report that the lockdown was pronounced by the leadership of the struggle for the Independence of Ambazonia based in the USA and is being imposed in consultation with the ARFs on the ground.

The reasons for the lockdown are said to be to send a strong message to the UN General Assembly holding in New York, where Cameroon will present in her report that normalcy has returned to the two English-speaking regions and that the academic year 2022/2023, which started on September 6, has taken off hitch-free in the war-torn Northwest and Southwest regions.  

The instructions on the lockdown further clarified that Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays are open for movements within the cities for people to get basic necessities and circulation is strictly limited to taxis and commercial motorbikes or okadas as they are referred to locally. 

However, according to DHPI officials, some factions of the Ambazonia fighters have denounced the lockdown, claiming that it is going to bring untold hardships on the civilian population who have had more than their fair share of suffering so far due to the crisis for these five years.  

DHPI reports that on September 15, people remained indoors in the major cities of the Northwest and Southwest regions, “probably out of fear for reprisals and in a bid to assess the situation.”  

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According to the foundation, the start of the 17-day lockdown on September 15 was reinforced by the killing of a girl and the wounding of four others in a bus on the Kumba-Buea highway.

DHPI officials report that the bus was caught in a crossfire between government forces and the ARFs, with the said girl being killed on the spot by a stray bullet and the four other passengers sustaining serious gunshot wounds. 

The first week of the “Guterres 17-days lockdown” was observed all over the Northwest and Southwest regions, DHPI says, and adds, “People respected and will respect the second week of the lockdown, not out of conviction but rather from fear of the unknown.”

“The lockdown means religious activities will be limited to the weekends and schools will remain shut for the duration of the lockdown,” the organization notes. 

DHPI leadership has insisted that it is the local population who are caught in the middle of the struggle for control between the Cameroon government and the leaders of the struggle for the independence of Ambazonia who are backed by their ADF forces.

“When is it going to be clearer to the (President) Biya regime that the military option for the crisis is not and will never resolve the situation?” the officials of DHPI pose, and add, “An unconditional and all-inclusive dialogue between the government of Cameroon and the stakeholders remains the most practical way forward in resolving the crisis.”