31, October 2023
Cameroon is asking Chad to withdraw its troops from a fishing and agriculture island in the volatile region of Lake Chad.
Cameroon says it wants its own troops to take total control of Birnigoni. Chad’s military began occupying the island in 2014 to fight Boko Haram militants and protect civilians.
The central African state’s military says peace is gradually returning to a majority of the 2,000-square-kilometer (770-square-mile) lake and its islands, including Birnigoni.
Even so, top Cameroonian military commanders are meeting with civilians who want assurances of their safety before Chad’s military departs.
Col. Tiokap Pierre Loti, commander of Cameroonian troops in the Multinational Joint Task Force fighting Boko Haram, said Cameroon and Chad have always preferred the rule of law, diplomacy and dialogue in settling disputes along their more than 1,100-kilometer (680-mile) porous land border.
Birnigoni was one of several hiding places for Boko Haram fighters when they were under heavy attack by army forces in Chad, Cameroon or Nigeria.
Cameroon says it approved Chadian troops occupying the island after a July 2014 Boko Haram attack killed at least 20 civilians.
Mahamat Souleymane, Chad’s infantry chief of staff, said President Mahamat Idriss Deby wants troops from Cameroon and Chad to launch joint operations to protect civilians before Chad’s army eventually leaves.
Souleymane did not give a specific date for withdrawal but said Chadian forces will leave as soon as Birnigoni civilians acquaint themselves with the new forces and start feeling protected by Cameroon government troops.
Amunitah Sule, a cattle rancher on Birnigoni, said people living on the island want the Cameroon military to work with their peers from Chad in protecting civilians for a few months before Chad withdraws its forces.
He predicted that several hundred ranchers and fishers who fled raids and heavy fighting between Boko Haram terrorists and Chadian troops would want to return to the island if Cameroonian troops can assure their safety.
He also said he hopes that roads and solar energy will be provided in areas that are relatively free from Boko Haram attacks.
Sule said Birnigoni has been attacked at least seven times within the past three months, with scores of civilians either killed or wounded. He said several Chadian soldiers were wounded in the latest attack, on September 16.
Chad’s military acknowledges there are regular jihadist attacks but denies some of its troops were killed.
The Lake Chad basin where Birnigoni is found encompasses parts of Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria. It is home to over 42 million people, mostly ranchers, fishers and crop farmers.
The 14-year Boko Haram insurgency and frequent attacks from other armed groups have destabilized the region and displaced millions of people.
In response, the Lake Chad countries, plus Benin, created the Multinational Joint Task Force in 2014. The force now has 11,000 soldiers fighting the jihadists.