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Africa

Attacks against Cameroonian security forces continue

media Cameroon President Paul Biya at the UN General Assembly in Septembre 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Two policemen were killed on Thursday in the English-speaking South-west region of Cameroon.This brings to ten the number of members security forces killed over the past month.The renewed violence prompted President Paul Biya to speak out on the crisis.

It had been some time since Paul Biya has adressed the ongoing crisis in the two Anglophone regions.

The last time did so was in  a comment was on social media following the violence surrounding the so-called declaration of independence of the two regions on October 1st.

Then, he condemned all acts of violence and called for peaceful dialogue. In his short speech this Thursday, the tone was harsher:

"I think that the situation is now perfectly clear to everyone: Cameroon is the victim of repeated attacks perpetrated by a bunch of terrorists calling themselves a secessionist movement.

"Faced with these acts of agression, I want to reassure the Cameroonian people that everything is being done to incapacitate these criminals and to make sure that peace and security is preserved throughout the national territory."

Security forces targeted

This declaration followed the killing of two policemen on Thursday in the south-west. Another policeman and soldier were injured in the attack, which targeted a joint unit that was patrolling in a small town near the Nigerian border.

An assailant was also killed. The attack happened in the same area where four soldiers were shot dead on Wednesday. All these attacks have been attributed to separatists by the authorities.

Hans De Marie Heungoup, a senior researcher on Cameroon at the International Crisis Group, underlined that the nature of the attacks has changed over last month.

He noted that, since last March, the violence has mostly consisted in the torching of schools and markets and the intimidation of the local elite.

However, since this September and especially in November, assailants have switched to home-made bombs and attacks directly targeting the security forces.

"This shift of modus operandi leads ICG to consider that we are now facing the begining of an insurgency, even if it is a very low-intensity insurgency with very artisanal weapons" he warned.

"It can be explained by the radicalisation of the population in these regions due to the police repression and arbitrary killings that followed the October protests, but also by the rivalry among the separatist movement."

Heungoup pointed out that separatists are divided between two main groups: one advocating dialogue and political pressure, the other promoting violence.

As the crisis goes on, the latter group which used to be a small minority has gained more support and the most extreme leaders, some of whom are in exile, have also been trying to impose their views and have called on people to take up arms, he said.

Verbal rivalry

The increasing tension is reflected in the vocabulary used by the two camps, which has becoming increasingly extreme.

President Biya is not the first official to call the separatists "terrorists".

"A sensitive term that contributes to widen the gap with the Anglophone population because the proponents of dialogue feel unheard, shoved aside and likened to violence advocates",  Heungoup says, adding that radical separatists are also fueling the crisis by calling Cameroonian security forces "occupation or colonial forces".

He added that it is imperative that both parties start meaningful dialogue, even though it will prove to be difficult as they already disagree on what should be discussed.

"Fear of the unknown"

Since October, extraordinary security measures have been put in place in the two Anglophone regions, such as curfews, restrictions in mobility or a ban on motorbikes.

Such measures weigh heavily on the everyday life of the population, according to local people.

"After seven in the evening, security forces screen every one, and if you don't have your identity card, they will arrest you, notwithstanding whether you're a student or an old man" a young man living in Buea told RFI, on condition of anonymity.

"We live in fear, we don't know what's going to happen next, whether it could turn into a civil war or not. We're grabbed by the fear of the unknown."

This Friday, the Minister of Defense Joseph Beti Assomo had a nine-hour meeting with the head of all security forces.

According to a goverment spokesperson, they discussed a wider range of measures to put an end to the attacks, as instructed by the President.. He didn't howere, didn't provide any details on such measures.

 
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