Schools Set Ablaze as Cameroon Vows Crackdown on Separatists

Updated on
  • Anglophone regions hit by arson attacks on schools, market
  • ‘You don’t negotiate with such people’: government spokesman

People walk at the food market in Bamenda.

Photographer: -/AFP via Getty Images

Unrest in Cameroon’s English-speaking regions intensified with arson attacks on schools and a city market as the government vowed to quash a secessionist movement whose leaders are in detention in Nigeria, saying it won’t negotiate with terrorists.

At least three schools were torched this week in the Northwest region, one of two Anglophone areas in the majority French-speaking Central African nation, after a market in the city of Bamenda was set ablaze in an attack the government blames on the separatists. Gunmen killed one soldier and seriously injured another on Thursday as they were on patrol in a town west of Bamenda, a commander of the paramilitary police, Ewane, said by phone.

“The government cannot and will not engage any form of dialogue with terrorists bent on amputating part of the national territory in the name of secession,’’ Communication Minister Issa Tchiroma Bakary said in a phone interview late Wednesday. “You don’t negotiate anything with such people.”

Security forces have stepped up patrols in the areas, searching houses and arresting those who can’t produce identity papers as part of “a routine operation,’’ Simon Emile Mooh, prefect for the Bui Division in the Northwest region, said by phone. “The forces of law and order are merely making sure that no weapons have been sneaked in,” he said.

Thousands of Refugees

Thousands of people have crossed the border into Nigeria and more refugees are expected to arrive in the coming weeks as the Cameroonian government intensifies its operations against the pro-independence movement, the United Nations Refugee Agency said in a Jan. 16 statement. The Anglophone regions are Cameroon’s biggest cocoa-growing areas, and some producers are abandoning their farms or struggling to find laborers, Charles Monono, the region’s head of agriculture, said last week.

Ten leaders of the separatist movement, which calls the two Anglophone regions the Republic of Ambazonia, have been held in neighboring Nigeria since Jan. 6 at an undisclosed location, according to their Nigerian lawyer, Femi Falana. The crisis began more than a year ago with peaceful protests against the French language’s dominance in courtrooms and schools.

One of the movement’s interim leaders, Bobga Harmony, announced on Facebook “the multiplication of self-defense operations” because the government rejects talks. “We shall continue targeting anti-secessionists as well as burn down schools,” he said.

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