By Andrew Nsoseka
In the late hours of Wednesday, December 8, soldiers in Cameroon’s Northwest regional capital, Bamenda conducted an operation that ended with scores of houses and businesses burnt down. According to video evidence and testimony of some locals, several persons were also killed in the operation, and some were burnt alive by the fire set by the soldiers.
In a communique released on Friday, December 10, 2021, the Ministry of Defence confirmed the operation. It stated that at about 3 PM on December 8, a convoy of the BIR was immobilised in the Bamenda-Mbengwi stretch of road, using wired Improvised Explosive Devices, IED.
The operation, going by local sources and even the Ministry of Defence, MINDEF press statement, was a retaliatory one by the military who set out to avenge a separatist attack on a BIR convoy in Bamenda-Mbengwi stretch of road. “With the use of a wire-controlled improvised explosive device, IED, the insurgents immobilised the convoy of the Defence and Security Forces, before opening heavy fire on the latter,” MINDEF said in a statement.
The aftermath of the operation rather depicted an attack on the locals and not the separatists as supposed by the MINDEF statement. Locals testify that in rage, the backup troops descended on locals and their properties, burning and shooting indiscriminately. What caught the attention of many, was the widespread burnings that left several structures destroyed.
In several videos making rounds on social media, several houses, businesses and even dead bodies are seen, as a result of the fire. The locals testified that the burning and killings were orchestrated by the rampaging soldiers. Early media reports put the number of those burnt alive at five.
Panoramic amateurish video taken by some of the victims from hiding spots shows wide sections of the targeted neighbourhoods with its structures going up in flames.
On the main happenings of that December 10 event, was the retaliatory attack that mostly left civilians as casualty. Navy Captain Atonfack in his press release said local military units in the areas were deployed as a backup to secure the area where the BIR convoy was immobilised. However, what those on the ground witnessed was an invasion of their homes, shootings, and burning of houses which forced many to flee their homes.
The MINDEF statement claims that the only fire incident was recorded during a gunfire exchange during which a warehouse of explosive devices was ignited. The statement said the fire spread to nearby houses. On the contrary, the fire incidents were recorded at Mbengwi Road, Azire, Hospital Roundabout and Rendezvous neighbourhoods. The videos taken by locals using smartphones show several houses on fire, and it was not only in a single location as claimed by MINDEF. MINDEF claims that those who died during the retaliatory attack were four separatists, but video evidence shows at least two apprentices at a metal workshop killed and partially burnt during the operation. The two were identified by locals who said they were young children. At that scene, there was a third survivor with a bullet in his leg.