Cameroon’s French-speaking towns on the border with the English-speaking western regions are creating militias to stop separatist incursions. The militias say separatists are entering French-speaking towns to steal food and weapons for their movement or acting independently as armed criminals.
Cameroon’s military on Monday said it held several top security meetings in the capital, Yaounde, to examine the spillover of the separatist crisis from the English-speaking western regions to French-speaking areas.
Cameroon’s defense minister Joseph Beti Assomo said the military will never allow fighters to transfer the peril they cause in the English-speaking Southwest and Northwest regions to French-speaking border localities. He said he is reinforcing the military presence and increasing financial and material means to stop the separatists from entering French-speaking towns and villages.
Speaking on state radio, Assomo did not disclose the number of troops deployed to stop the separatists.
The military says French-speaking regions infiltrated by separatists include Mbouda, Galim, Babadjou, Babisenge, Foumban, Foumbot and Bafoussam. Two of these places, Foumbot and Bafoussam, are large commercial areas.
The military says there have been at least 60 attacks by separatist fighters in French-speaking localities with dozens of lives lost.
On social media, separatist groups have denied that fighters are looting. But they acknowledge attacks on several military positions, saying that they do so to seize weapons.
Rigobert Nchinda, a cattle rancher who relocated from Galim to Mbouda, said last week that suspected separatists seized five cows and money from him.
Nchinda said civilians live in total fear. He says many people are deserting border villages because of the recent frequent attacks and looting by suspected separatists. Business is at a standstill. To speak the truth, those of us remaining in border localities with English-speaking regions are not comfortable with rising insecurity caused by separatists who are infiltrating, Nchinda adds.
Defense Minister Assomo said civilians should assist the military by reporting suspects and strangers in their localities.
François Franklin Etapa is the most senior government official in Bamboutos, the district where Galim is located.
Etapa said militia groups have been created in all villages and towns on the border with the English-speaking Northwest to stop the incursions.
Etapa said Bamboutos is facing repeated assaults from secessionists because of its geographical location, near English-speaking regions. He said separatist attacks have dampened the spirits of civilians. He said he has decided to create vigilantes in all villages to help fight separatists who cross over from the English-speaking areas to commit atrocities in French-speaking border areas.
Etapa said people should not think that by promoting vigilantes, the country is handing over its duty of protecting citizens to militias. He said the militias should collaborate with traditional rulers, community leaders, the administration and the military by reporting strangers and armed men in the towns and villages.
Civilians and NGOs already contribute food and money to assist the militias. Many of the militiamen go out with locally made guns, machetes and bows and arrows to face intruders.
The military also says vigilantes should signal troops when armed men are spotted in the towns and villages.
Cameroon’s separatists have been fighting since 2017 to create an independent English-speaking state in the majority French-speaking country’s western regions.
The conflict has cost more than 3,000 lives and forced 550,000 people to flee to French-speaking regions of Cameroon or into neighboring Nigeria, according to the United Nations.