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Cameroon

Cameroon government makes U-turn on Anglophone massacre in Ngarbuh

Cameroonian gendarmes patrol in the Omar Bongo Square of the South West province capital Buea on 3 October 2018 during a political rally of the ruling CPDM party of incumbent President Paul Biya.
Cameroonian gendarmes patrol in the Omar Bongo Square of the South West province capital Buea on 3 October 2018 during a political rally of the ruling CPDM party of incumbent President Paul Biya. © AFP - Marco Longari

Cameroonian authorities on Tuesday published findings of a report on a massacre in Ngarbuh village, in the country’s North West region, admitting that soldiers killed at least three women and 10 children during an operation against Anglophone separatist forces in February.  

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Three soldiers have been arrested for their role in the killings and will face a military tribunal.

The government initially described the allegations against Cameroonian security forces as “fake”, saying that such accusations were “outrageous and misleading”. 

However, Tuesday’s report by a commission of inquiry describes how security forces killed civilians, tried to conceal their actions by starting fires and then submitted a false report on the incident. 

Anglophone separatist groups have long called for secession from the government in Yaounde, but fighting has escalated since 2017 and a self-declaration of independence. 

Three soldiers have been singled out in the Ngarbuh massacre: a sergeant, gendarme and private first class. The report also identifies a local “vigilante committee”, members of which have not been identified, and a battalion commander who failed to supervise the operation. 

Ngarbuh village was targeted by security forces since it had become a logistics centre for “secessionist terrorists”, supplying arms, ammunition and fuel, according to a government statement about the inquiry

"The terrorists were engaged in all sorts of abuses against the local population (cattle rustling, rape, assaults, etc.) which warranted an intervention,” the statement added. 

The government said it will exhume the bodies and give the dead a “decent burial” as well as “establish the necessary evidence” to determine the truth, according to a communique signed by Ferdinand Ngoh Ngoh, a state minister in the presidency. 

Cameroonian authorities will identify the “rightful claimants” in order to pay compensation and strengthen security in Ngarbuh village, establishing a military base to “ensure better protection of civilians against the abuses of armed groups”, the government said. 

The crisis in Cameroon’s North West and South West regions began as protests over perceived marginalisation of Anglophones by the Francophone majority. Then a crackdown on demonstrations and arrests of Anglophone leaders led to declarations of independence and an armed struggle. 

Vindication 

The publication of the inquiry’s findings can be seen as somewhat of a victory for human rights groups who drew attention to the massacre. 

“We hope that this represents a true change and that the government will continue to take into account and respond to allegations of human rights violations, including those committed in the Anglophone regions,” said Ilaria Allegrozzi, a researcher with Human Rights Watch. 

The US-based rights group described at least 21 civilians being killed during the army’s operations in Ngarbuh including 13 children and one pregnant woman. Human Rights Watch said soldiers and armed ethnic Fulani burnt five homes, pillaged scores of others and beat residents. 

“While we may disagree on some key points in terms of the facts around Ngarbuh, the report itself indicates that the government is willing to consider accountability for serious crimes committed by its own troops,” said Allegrozzi. 

In the aftermath of Ngarbuh, Cameroon’s government hit out at Human Rights Watch for their investigation into the massacre, with Rene Emmanuel Sadi, the minister of communication, describing them as “die-hard detractors, presenting themselves as ‘human rights specialists’”. 

“The government and military went on the attack - they belittled us and resorted to personal insults,” said Lewis Mudge, central Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “They [the government] should understand that we will not be intimidated by these tactics and that we seek to work in a collaborative fashion.” 

Lawyer Agbor Nkongho of the Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa, a local non-governmental organisation, said they too had “concluded that the military was responsible for the massacre”. But after issuing a statement outlining allegations against the military, his group were threatened with legal action. 

“We are happy that we have been vindicated,” said Nkongho. “We must condemn heinous and gross and systematic violations against the population irrespective of the perpetrator.” 

‘Politicised investigation’ 

The Ambazonia Governing Council, an Anglophone separatist group, called the Ngarbuh inquiry a “political charade”. 

“Accepting culpability in Ngarbuh while presenting false justification of the systematic killing of civilians is a political masquerade,” said Ayaba Cho Lucas, who leads the Ambazonia Governing Council, one of the largest secessionist groups who have self-declared independence. 

Ayaba called for a “non-politicised independent fact-finding mission to investigate the various massacres”, saying that the Cameroonian government “cannot be allowed to investigate itself”. 

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