Shooting between soldiers and armed men injured Wednesday in western Cameroon in the grip of a bloody conflict between the army and English-speaking separatists, an incident which weighs on the climate of the African Cup of Nations ( CAN) of soccer.
Before the opening of the queen competition of African football on Sunday in Yaoundé, separatist rebels had threatened to attack the teams which play in Limbé and train in Buea, in the west.
« There were exchanges of fire in Buea yesterday and several people were injured, » Mayor David Mafani Namange told AFP by telephone, however referring to « sporadic incidents ». “The security forces quickly intervened,” he continued.
The attack has not yet been claimed. The Confederation of African Football (CAF), organizer of the tournament, seemed untroubled by the incident, also ignored by almost all of the Cameroonian press.
« We know that there was a movement, far from our operations, but we do not know at all precisely what could have happened, if there was an attack or not », commented for AFP a senior CAF executive who requested anonymity.
The authorities, they, solicited by AFP, have neither confirmed nor denied. « The separatists attacked several neighborhoods in Buea, army reinforcements arrived and fought back, » a senior military official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
“There were heavy exchanges of gunfire between soldiers and separatists,” Me Agbor Balla, director of the NGO Center for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa, told AFP.
« The more the separatists advanced towards the city center, the more panic there was, » said the lawyer, who mentions a death in the fighting, without any other source confirming it.
Buea is the capital of the South-West which, with the North-West, are the two regions inhabited mainly by the English-speaking minority of Cameroon, a vast country in Central Africa populated by 80% French-speaking people and ruled with a hand of iron for nearly 40 years by the same man, 88-year-old President Paul Biya.
For five years, after the repression of peaceful demonstrations accusing the central power of ostracism against Anglophones, armed separatists and soldiers have clashed in a deadly conflict. International NGOs and the UN routinely blame both sides for crimes and atrocities targeting civilians.
The most radical secessionist armed groups are demanding the independence of the two regions under the name of « Ambazonia » and had threatened before the opening of the CAN on Sunday to disrupt its progress.
The body of a senator was found riddled with bullets on Wednesday in Bamenda, capital of the North West. Henry Kemende, elected from the Social Democratic Front (SDF), one of the main opposition parties, was killed by the « Ambazonians », had immediately accused his party, yet dominated by English speakers but regularly the target of separatists because opposed to any partition and participating in central institutions.
-two intractable camps-
The fighting has killed in 5 years « more than 6,000 people and displaced around a million others, causing one of the least publicized humanitarian crises in the world », wrote the NGO International Crisis Group (ICG) three days before. the opening of the CAN, blaming the two camps for refusing any concession and dialogue.
The « Amba-boys », nickname given to the most extremist of the separatist rebels, regularly commit crimes and atrocities targeting civilians.
The military are not left out according to the UN which, in tune with countries like France and the United States, accuses Mr. Biya of carrying out relentless repression and of remaining deaf to any request, even for a federalist solution demanded by the more moderate.
“Attacks by separatists during the month that the tournament will last risk undermining the capital of sympathy enjoyed by English-speaking Cameroonians in Africa and elsewhere, and the draconian measures of the government could provoke a popular reaction and an escalation of the conflict”, fears ICG who calls rebels and government to a « ceasefire » at least the time of the CAN.