DAKAR (Reuters) – Clashes between insurgents fighting for a breakaway republic in Cameroon’s English-speaking region and security forces have killed scores of people and displaced tens of thousands more since the conflict intensified late last year.
In the bloodiest incident to date, Cameroonian forces surrounded and killed more than two dozen suspected separatists in the town of Menka, in Cameroon’s Northwest Region, last weekend.
Insurgents have abducted and killed soldiers and policemen in hit-and-run guerrilla raids. Cameroonian forces have responded with scorched earth tactics such as burning down villages then opening fire on fleeing residents, witnesses told Reuters in February. The army denies such accusations.
The unrest threatens the stability of one of Africa’s larger economies ahead of October elections widely expected to extend 85-year-old President Paul Biya’s three and a half decades in power. It has hurt cocoa output and risks spilling into Nigeria.
WHY IS CAMEROON DIVIDED?
At the end of World War One, the League of Nations carved up Germany’s imperial possessions in Africa between allied victors, mostly Britain and France. Most of the German colony of Kamerun – a swathe of central Africa housing peoples speaking 250 languages – went to France. A small part went to Britain. At independence in 1960, English speakers were given the choice of remaining part of Cameroon or joining bigger neighbor Nigeria, a former British territory.
They voted to stay with Cameroon, but have since felt increasingly marginalized by the French-speaking government in Yaounde hundreds of miles away. They say the best government jobs go to French speakers, and that education, roads and health in their western region are neglected, despite Cameroon having produced tens of thousands of barrels of oil a day since the 1970s, mostly in the south-west, an English-speaking region.