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Rights monitors sound alarm over 'neglected' Cameroon crisis

Two regions in Cameroon are in the grip of an armed campaign by English-speaking militants seeking independence from the francophone-majority country.

FILE: Cameroonian general Donatien Nouma Melingui, in charge of military operations in the South-West Region of Cameroon stands by a national flag at the 21st Motorised Infantry Brigade headquarter on 26 April 2018 in Buea. Picture: AFP

YAOUNDÉ - Rights groups have sounded a warning over the escalating crisis in western Cameroon, where separatists and government forces are locked in deadly combat.

"The international community is asleep at the wheel when it comes to the crisis in Cameroon," the secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), Jan Egeland, said in a report issued on Tuesday.

"Brutal killings, burned-down villages and massive displacement have been met with deafening silence."

Two regions in Cameroon are in the grip of an armed campaign by English-speaking militants seeking independence from the francophone-majority country.

On 1 October 2017, they declared the creation of the "Republic of Ambazonia", covering the two English-speaking regions incorporated into post-independence Cameroon in 1961.

The declaration went largely unnoticed outside Cameroon, and "Ambazonia" - named after a bay at the mouth of the Douala River - has been recognised by no-one.

The government responded with a brutal crackdown, and the separatists, in turn, have mounted a campaign of attacks on state buildings, shooting and kidnappings.

According to the International Crisis Group think tank, 1,850 people have been killed, while more than 530,000 people have been forced from their homes, according to UN figures.

The NRC said the crisis in the Northwest and Southwest Regions topped its annual list of the world's "most neglected displacement crises".

There has been no major mediation effort, no large relief programme, minimal media interest and insufficient pressure to stop attacks on civilians, it said.

Second and third on the NRC list were long-running conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic.

Separately, a report by a Cameroon-based rights group in Africa, the CHRDA, and the Canada-based Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, accused the armed forces of conducting "a deliberate, violent campaign against civilian populations".

It acknowledged that local armed groups also bore "much responsibility" for the violence.

"It is sometimes argued that the current crisis is just one more conflict in a series of reciprocal attacks and reprisals between government and secessionist forces," the report, published on Monday, said.

"However, minimising the seriousness of the attacks on civilians as part of the 'normal' conflict serves to shield serious human rights violations and crimes against humanity and may even enable their continuation.

"Minimising the conflict also ignores evidence that the violence is spreading, engulfing Francophone regions of the country, becoming a threat to the entire sub-region."

Around a fifth of Cameroon's population of 24 million are English-speakers.

Resentment has long festered at perceived discrimination at the hands of the francophone majority in education, law and the economy.

In recent years, growing demands for autonomy or a return to Cameroon's federal structure were rejected by President Paul Biya, prompting radicals to gain the ascendancy in the anglophone movement.

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