By Boris Esono Nwenfor
In a rare admission, the Cameroon government has said its soldiers “manifestly disproportionate” and “hasty” response to a confrontation which led to the death of nine, in Cameroon’s restive North West Region.
According to Cameroon’s Defence Ministry this Tuesday, the four soldiers were searching for a missing comrade in the village of Missong when they came across a group of angry villagers at night.
“In an inappropriate reaction, unsuited to the circumstances and manifestly disproportionate to the hostile villagers’ refusal to cooperate … the soldiers, in a hasty reaction of self-protection … used their weapons,” the statement said. The victims were four men, four women and an infant, it said. A one-year-old child was slightly injured and taken to hospital.
The North West Region is one of two English-speaking regions where secessionist fighters protesting perceived marginalisation by the French-speaking majority have been battling government troops since 2016. The crisis has been characterized by widespread human rights abuses by both government forces and armed separatists. Security forces have conducted abusive counterinsurgency operations resulting in the killings of civilians and the destruction of hundreds of homes. They have also arbitrarily arrested and tortured suspected separatist fighters.
This is not the first time that Cameroon’s defence and security forces have been accused of extrajudicial killings related to the Anglophone crisis.
In 2021, Human Rights Watch accused soldiers of killing nine civilians in Mautu Village, South West Region. The dead included a woman and a child, and four civilians were injured. The soldiers also looted scores of homes and threatened residents, HRW noted.
The army spokesperson admitted that soldiers from the 21st Motorized Infantry Battalion (Bataillon d’Infanterie Motorise or BIM) conducted an operation in the village, but did not acknowledge that troops killed and injured civilians.
In February 2020, government forces killed 21 civilians, including 13 children and a pregnant woman, in Ngarbuh, North-West region, in a reprisal attack against the population accused of supporting separatist fighters. The government initially denied the army was responsible, but later established a commission of inquiry leading to the arrest of two soldiers and a gendarme.