Cameroon’s ministry of defence is once more in a tight spot over the military’s actions in the country’s ‘boiling’ North West and South West regions.
In a recent statement, the army denies reports that it had rounded up and executed civilians in Foe Bakundu in the South West region and Kumbo in the North West region.
The said reports, Army Spokesperson, Navy Captain Atonfack Guemo Cyrille Serge said, were “an amateur photographic report presenting a scene of massacre of men, women and children…”
“The authors of the online posting of these gruesome photographs attributed the alleged massacre to elements of the Defence and Security Forces, also accused of having carried out a raid killing in cold blood several civilians in the village of FOE BAKUNDU, in the MBONGE Sub-division, MEME Division, South-West Region,” he recounted.
“This,” the army official said, “is a hoax. An absolute hoax”.
What initially transpired, he said, was that two patrols of elements of the Defence Forces, one foot and the other motorized, were simultaneously attacked on March 26, 2021, in the localities of Kumbo and in Mbonge.
“As for Kumbo, a detachment of the 3rd Rapid Intervention Battalion surprised armed criminals at about 9 a.m. while robbing the population. Panic-stricken, the criminals immediately opened fire on elements of the Defence Forces, whose response was swift and vigorous”.
This he said, resulted in a violent clash which saw “… 04 terrorists neutralized and others wounded who took to their heels, several weapons and munitions of war recovered. Among the neutralized terrorists are four of the leaders of the gang that paraded Kumbo and its vicinities, namely Emmanuel BINYNUY, SHEY Fabrice, Francois TAMBA and Camer KUNUNYIN”.
In Mbonge, he stated, a patrol of elements of the 21st Battalion of Marine Fusiliers Commandos, attacked “by a heavily armed criminal gang” on the Mbonge-Kumba road in the morning of March 26, 2021.
“The outcome of this second clash was 02 terrorists neutralized, 05 improvised explosive devices, remote detonators and several weapons of war recovered,” he went further.
Information circulating on social media after these attacks, Navy Captain Atonfack said, “… the secessionist propaganda supported as usual by certain media and national and international nongovernmental organizations, were all echoing an alleged massacre perpetrated by the Defence and Security Forces in Mbonge on March 26, 2021”.
Photographs and videos inI circulation according to the official, “… are those of an operation carried out successfully by the Defence Forces on March 18, 2021 in Foe Bakundu, in the Mbonge Sub-division, and which led to the neutralization of 6 terrorists including the famous self-proclaimed general ‘Spirito’”.
Calling the reports a “farce”, he asserted that it “… in no way weakens the morale of the Armed Forces, who continue to operate across the country with respect for Human and People’s Rights, while ensuring that any deviation is sanctioned in accordance with the laws and regulations of the country”.
While the army’s version of the story remains controversial, as even the Foe Bakundu operation of March 18 still has question marks. During the said operation, sources say several civilians including the old, women and children were reportedly rounded up and shot dead by soldiers who accused them of harbouring separatist fighters.
The army’s denial it should be noted is not the first of its kind. One of its most glaring gaffes remains the February 14, 2020 Ngarbuh massacre in the North West region where kids and pregnant women were shot dead by soldiers.
In usual fashion, the army initially denied the claims but later backtracked o its words. Till date, the massacre victims say they are yet to receive justice.
Similar cases have been reported in hundreds of villages set ablaze and thousands of civilians killed. Even when elements of the Cameroon armed forces have been caught on camera perpetrating some of these acts, government has often stayed in denial, sometimes attributing the act to armed non state actors.