Security tight in Cameroon anglophone region as toll rises

Police maintained a tight grip in English-speaking Cameroon on Monday a day after the anglophone minority declared symbolic independence, as the toll from weekend clashes rose to at least 17 dead, according to an unofficial tally.

Highways in the anglophone Southwest Region remained blocked or filtered by police checkpoints in the early morning, and in the city of Buea the streets were virtually deserted and heavily patrolled.

Police and troops set up five roadblocks on the vital 70-kilometre (43-mile) road link between Cameroon’s economic hub of Douala and Buea, Southwest Region’s chief city, an AFP journalist saw.

In the rundown Buea district of Mile 17 — a reputed haven for separatists — rocks, hurled in demonstrations on Sunday, were strewn in the streets.

Police carried out overnight arrests in one of the city’s districts, and left with individuals who were in handcuffs, an AFP journalist saw.

On social media, pro-independence campaigners reported a wave of raids and arrests, but it was difficult to confirm their claim. Internet access in anglophone region was poor or cut off.

– Rising toll –

Amnesty International said “at least” 17 people had been killed by security forces in the country’s two English-speaking regions, a figure that concurred with a toll given by official sources, who said two Nigerians were among the dead.

An earlier tally compiled by AFP put the death toll at seven, who were shot dead by security forces

On Sunday, separatists used the October 1 anniversary of the official unification of the English- and French-speaking parts of Cameroon to declare independence for “Ambazonia,” the name of the state they want to create.

The violence was the culmination of weeks of mounting tension in the Southwest and Northwest Regions — home to anglophones who account for about a fifth of the West African nation’s population of 22 million.

English-speakers complain they have suffered decades of economic inequality and social injustice at the hands of the French-speaking majority, especially in education and the judiciary.

Most anglophone campaigners want the country to resume a federalist system — an approach that followed the 1961 unification but was later scrapped in favour of a centralised government run from the capital Yaounde.

But a hardline minority is calling for secession.

– ‘No longer slaves’ –

The symbolic declaration of independence was made Sunday on social media by Sisiku Ayuk, who describes himself as the “president” of Ambazonia.

“We are no longer slaves of Cameroon,” he said. “Today we affirm the autonomy of our heritage and our territory.”

Both federalism and independence are opposed by the country’s long-ruling president, 84-year-old Paul Biya.

On Sunday, Biya said he condemned “all acts of violence, whatever their source” and urged “dialogue.”

The European Union has called on all side to refrain from violence and uphold the law, a position echoed on Monday by France, Cameroon’s former colonial power. Amnesty International has called on the government to inquire into the deaths.

Cameroon was a German colony from 1884 until 1919, when it was split into British- and French- run entities at the end of World War I.

Today’s anglophone-francophone rift dates back to 1961, when the British-administered Southern Cameroons united with Cameroon after its independence from France in 1960.

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