5, March 2020
Two aid agencies on Wednesday called on Cameroon’s army and separatist fighters to halt attacks on civilians in a conflict between English-speaking separatists and government forces in a predominantly French-speaking country.
Rights groups have accused both sides of atrocities in a two-year conflict that has left more than 3,000 dead, closed schools and clinics and forced 700,000 people to flee their homes.
In a joint statement, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) called for both sides to respect international law and stop all attacks on civilians.
“The crisis destabilising the English speaking parts of Cameroon has taken a worrying turn, with an increasing number of reports of targeted attacks against civilians,” the NGOs said.
“Survivors have shared testimonies of gruesome attacks that have left children orphaned, people homeless, and limited or cut off access to public facilities such as hospitals and schools.”
Later on Wednesday, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian joined calls for a proper investigation into an alleged massacre in Ntumbo village in the anglophone northwest on February 14.
“It is absolutely essential we are told who did what,” Le Drian said.
Human Rights Watch last month accused the armed forces in taking part in the killing of 21 civilians, including at least 13 children, in Ntumbo.
The army denied the claims and said the deaths were an accident after fuel supplies exploded into flames during a gun battle with separatists.
Aid agencies say they have faced threats and violence from both sides as they struggle to deliver help to those made vulnerable by the fighting.
“This crisis needs more attention,” said Paul Taylor of the IRC.
“Aid agencies need additional resources to meet the needs of those displaced by this crisis, and all parties need to ensure that aid agencies are able to access those who are in desperate need of basic services.”
English speakers account for nearly a fifth of Cameroon’s population of 24 million, who are majority French-speaking.
Most of the anglophone minority live in two western regions called the Northwest and Southwest, which were once British colonies in West Africa.
Decades of grievances at perceived discrimination brewed into a declaration of independence in October 2017, which was followed by a government crackdown and a separatist insurgency.
The declaration has not been recognised internationally and President Paul Biya, in power for 37 years, has refused demands to return to a federal system.