The Cameroonian army has denied any wrongdoing in March 2020 in the village of Ebam in the country’s conflict-hit South West region.
In a statement in response to a scathing report by Human Rights Watch, HRW accusing soldiers of heinous crimes including killings and mass raping, the army spokesperson, Captain Cyrille Serge Atonfack said the facts had not been verified before presentation.
Acknowledging that soldiers did indeed carry out an operation in the locality, he said it was aimed at hitting separatist fighters’ hide outs.
“During the night of Saturday 29th February to Sunday 1st March 2020, a cordon and search operation led by elements of the 22nd Motorized Infantry Battalion gradually took up position around the EBAM village; the action itself was launched in the early morning of Sunday 1st March 2020” he stated, adding that “the aim of the operation was to put out of action armed terrorists who were using the locality as a rear base to plan attacks in the Eyumojock sub-Division and its surroundings”.
Contrary to HRW claims, he said the detachment was made up of around 20 servicemen and not 50.
“At the end of this operation which lasted for a few hours,” Captain Atonfack noted, “01 locally manufactured weapon and other ammunition were recovered, 16 motorcycles confiscated, 01 terrorist neutralized, 35 individuals arrested and placed at the disposal of the Mamfe Gendarmerie Company for questioning”.
“The officials of this Unit immediately released an individual declared to be suffering from multiple pathologies, before proceeding to question the other 34, who were also released on the evening of that same Sunday 1st March 2020.
The question that comes to mind is how the lockdown of a clearly identified terrorist base would constitute a “serious” violation of human rights” he added.
The army spokesman who doubles as head of the communication unit at the Ministry of Defence went on to attack HRW, caling its findings clumsy.
“By putting the State of Cameroon and the separatists on an equal footing of legitimacy on the one hand, and by clearly and clumsily siding with armed groups on the other hand, HRW stood true to its astonishing logic” his release read.
It added that “it is worth mentioning that this organization has, to the detriment of its credibility, never reported objectively on events in the North West and South West Regions, but always opting at the slightest opportunity for a systematic relentlessness and demonization of the Cameroon’s Defence Forces”.
“Notwithstanding these violent attacks, the Cameroon’s Defence Forces continue to carry out their missions in accordance with the rules of engagement, and are able to maintain a heavy disciplinary hand over its men when some of them violate such rules” the release ended.
The response by the Ministry of Defence followed a call by the US government for an immediate investigation into the alleged March 2020 abuses be investigated and perpetrators brought to book.
The ‘notorious’ 22nd Motorized Infantry Battalion
The 22nd Motorized Infantry Battalion cited by the Ministry of Defence as responsible for the Ebam attack, has often been highlighted in terms of unprofessional practice in the ongoing fight against separatist fighters in the North West and South West regions of the country.
The same unit on January 10, 2021, it should be recalled, was in charge of an operation in Mautu, still in the South West region that saw several civilians including women and children shot dead.
Navy Captain Atonfack Guemo Cyrille Serge claimed the soldiers had done no wrong doing, stating that “… some terrorists were neutralized, others who were injured took to their heels. Weapons and munitions were recovered”.
“A high command” he however stated, “has prescribed a thorough investigation to clarify these obscure machinations and to shed light if necessary, on the content of the gruesome images in circulation”.
Details of the announced investigation, one of many such remains sketchy.