War of words: Oppressed English speakers targeted in escalating Cameroonian conflict
The conflict ignited almost three years ago; when minority English speakers in the Ambazonia region of Africa’s Cameroon started to speak out against the onslaught of persecution and discrimination of the dominant French-speaking government.
Only the response from the leadership was fast and furious. The situation has since escalated into a bloody battle of linguistics.
“The English-speaking, independent minority have been marginalized and treated as slaves and second class citizens. This is unbearable,” Pastor Abanda Nche, 45, told Fox News from his home in Ambazonia. “If anyone speaks out against the atrocities and loathing committed by the military, you are targeted and killed, beheaded, and sometimes instantly burned alive.”
Commonly referred to as the Anglophone region, the self-declared Republic of Ambazonia – which is home to most of the country’s 25 percent English speakers have long been deemed the nation’s most poverty-stricken and underprivileged.
“Cameroon is imploding from the inside and the level of uncertainty is extremely dire,” noted David Otto, director of Counter-Terrorism and Organized Crime for the Africa-focused Global Risk International security firm. “There are multiple cases of systematic rape, summary executions, extortion, public decapitation, mutilations, amputations, arson in villages, hospitals, unlawful detention, mass arrest and humiliation tactics from both state and non-state actors.”
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He said that more than 2,000 Cameroonians have been “disappeared” or killed, and many more seriously maimed or wounded by the bloodletting actions perpetrated by both armed separatist groups, government forces and “criminal elements” taking advantage of the crisis.
“There is a scorched earth policy of the military burning down houses, hospitals, schools. Bodies are burned to hide the evidence,” Nche claimed.
Data provided to Fox News from the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) underscored that since the start of this year alone, there have been some 46 battles, riots, protests and other violent incidents. 30 separate battles between Anglophone separatists and the French-dominant government, and at least 15 more that have resulted in violence against civilians – resulting in 11 reported fatalities.
According to UN estimates, more than 400 have been killed in the mayhem, and a further 437,000 people have been displaced, the vast majority being women and children. Over 100 schools have been burned to the ground, and entire villages are said to have been erased.
Last month a Cameroonian nonprofit group the Rural Women Center for Education and Development documented that over 300 school-age girls had become pregnant as a result of rape, perpetrated by all sides of the conflict, with many resorting to savage and life-threatening abortion methods.
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Abductions by militias have also become commonplace. Last week, a 20-person university football team was kidnapped during a training session, and after days of apparent torture, were finally released and taken to the hospital. Such crimes are often committed without a group claiming responsibility, and fingers are pointed at the government and at Anglophone separatists.
Much of the frustration of the Anglophone community has been spurred by the protracted, iron-fist governing of Cameroon’s Francophile government, led by 85-year-old President Paul Biya. He has ruled since 1982 but spends the majority of his time in Switzerland.
In response to queries over whether any pressure had been put on government leadership over the alleged atrocities, the Swiss embassy in Washington told Fox News that they encourage “dialogue between the government and humanitarian organizations” and that “as a neutral and multilingual country, Switzerland further tries to support the handling of bilingualism in Cameroon.”
The Cameroon Embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment.
And although the slaughter has attracted little international attention since its inception, U.S. officials are starting to raise red flags over the matter.
“We continue to be extremely concerned about the situation there,” Ambassador Michael Kozak said earlier this month following the release of the 2018 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, which underscored the “ongoing and excessive and arbitrary violence committed by the government and its security forces.”
“Not only do you have terrorist organizations, but then you’ve got the dispute between the Anglophone regions and the central government. We have had many discussions with the Cameroonian authorities about the need to investigate and hold accountable security forces when they commit abuses.”
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While not explicitly a conflict that is religious in nature, given that both English and French speakers make up the 53 percent who deem themselves Christian, devoted churchgoers say they have been swept up into the turmoil despite their constant cries for peace on all sides.
The Council of Protestant Churches of Cameroon declared in November that over 50 primary and secondary schools, as well as Christian hospitals, have been impacted. Late last year, the military also took over four churches and turned them into military barracks. A few weeks earlier, some 79 children were abducted by gunmen from a Presbyterian Church school in the region’s capital, Bamenda, and returned – withered and psychologically scarred – days later, while their teacher and principal remained in captivity. The boarding school was forced to shudder after threats of further aggression.
At least 100 pastors from the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon, according to the Church's official account, are estimated to have fled their homes as the situation deteriorates.
“When churches attempt to mediate or assist members of one side of the crisis, they become targets for those on the other side of the conflict,” explained Jeff King, President of International Christian Concern. “And in the midst of violence, Christian institutions have been figuratively caught in the crossfire of conflict.”