Cameroon Crisis: Refugees Warn of Looming Civil War

As Patrick Ndong was getting ready to leave home for his poultry farm in the Cameroonian commune of Akwaya, a group of soldiers stormed into his compound and began shooting in the air. 

Ndong took to his heels, but as he did so he could see soldiers dragging young boys from the village into a waiting van.

"They [the boys] were shouting for help," Ndong told IRIN. "One woman was crying and rolling on the floor because her son had been shot."

Like thousands of others who fled Akwaya in English-speaking southwest Cameroon, Ndong spent three days in the bush before crossing the border into the tiny Nigerian village of Utanga, in Cross River State.

"I had to eat leaves to survive," said Ndong, a livestock breeder. "I'll never forget the day soldiers totally destroyed my life."

That was on 1 October, the day when thousands of Cameroonians in the two English-speaking regions took to the streets demanding secession from the rest of the majority Francophone country.
Refugee Trouble Looming 

The security forces responded with violence. Just in Bamenda, the capital of Northwest Region, Amnesty International said 17 people were killed. There is now mounting concern that Cameroon's "anglophone crisis" is spinning out of control.

Fleeing refugees
The refugee flow from Akwaya - a collection of villages sandwiched between Nigeria and Cameroon - and other locations in western Cameroon, is just one example.

At least 20,000 people are currently sheltering in a string of communities in Nigeria's Cross River state, according to state government officials.

"The influx of people has not ceased yet," John Inaku, the director-general of the State Emergency Managing Authority told IRIN. "They are still coming in, even up till this morning."

The UN's refugee agency, UNHCR, said last week that 5,000 people had been registered or were awaiting registration, but added that it was working on a contingency plan of up to 40,000 people crossing into southeastern Nigeria.

"Our fear, however, is that 40,000 might actually be a conservative figure in a situation where the conflict might continue," warned UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch.

Tensions are indeed increasing. On Tuesday, two Cameroonian gendarmes were killed in Bamenda in an overnight raid on a security checkpoint, reportedly by English-speaking separatists. A third officer was killed in an ambush on a patrol an hour later.

No one yet knows how many people died in Akwaya, but "the government has forced our people into carrying arms," said 39-year-old Solomon Ode, who fled to Utanga last month. "This is going to turn into a full-blown war."

Activists of the Southern Cameroonian United Front had warned for months that they would symbolically declare Northwest and Southwest Cameroon the so-called independent Republic of Ambazonia on 1 October.

There were large protests in support across the regions' major towns, but it was in places like Akwaya where some of the worst violence was committed by the security forces, and which went largely unreported.

"We wanted to tell the world that we are no longer slaves of Cameroon," said John Tita, who marched with protesters in Buea, the capital of Southwest Region, before returning to Akwaya later in the day to find his house destroyed, allegedly by the army.

One woman told IRIN her 14-year-old son was shot by soldiers inside her compound in Akwaya and was then taken away. "I don't know if he's dead or alive," she said. "There was blood all over his body." - IRIN

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