By Tata Mbunwe
Around the world, February 14 is observed as a day of love, but in the English-speaking Regions of Cameroon, it brings to mind the bloody memories of a gruesome military operation that claimed 21 civilian lives in the North Western village of Ngarbuh.
2023 makes it three years since the bloodbath that was executed by soldiers and local vigilante men who killed 21 people, including 13 children and a pregnant woman.
Human Rights Watch, which has been closely tracking developments in the Cameroon Anglophone conflict, said in its 14 February 2022 report that the Ngarbuh incident was one of the Cameroon military’s “worst atrocities” since the crisis started in 2016.
Soldiers and local Fulani vigilantes, commonly called the Mbororos, stormed Ngarbuh village in Ndonga Mantung Division of the Northwest on February 14, 2020, where they killed 21 people, burnt five homes, looted properties and beat locals who were suspected of harboring separatist fighters.
Initially, the government had denied reports that soldiers were responsible for the attack and shifted blame to Ambazonia separatist fighters.
But due to international pressure, the government admitted on March 1, 2020, that soldiers of the 52nd Motorised Infantry Battalion had carried out the massacre alongside local Fulani vigilantes.
No accountability yet
After admitting the military’s responsibility for the Ngarbuh attack, the government announced that prime suspects had been arrested.
The included a sergeant and a first-class soldier of the 52nd Motorised Infantry Battalion, a gendarme, a former separatist fighter, and 17 Fulani vigilante men.
President Paul Biya had set up a commission to investigate and bring those responsible to justice.
But three years later, the Ngarbuh victims seem to have been forgotten, as justice is taking a slow pace and accountability far-fetched. The commission created to handle the issue has also gone underground.
Charged with murder, arson, destruction, violence against a pregnant woman and disobeying orders, trial began on December 17, 2020 at the Yaounde Military Court, some 450 kilometres from Ngarbuh, the incident scene.
Three years on, no information leaked out on the turnout of the court case, and the government has not revealed the identities on the vigilante men accused of participating in the attack either.
Last February, Human Rights Watch reported that the investigators were making no effort to track and arrest the accused vigilante men, despite having the telephone number and location of at least one of them.
Also, the government has kept silent about the three soldiers who were arrested in line with the attack.
As justice for victims of the Ngarbuh massacre remained shrouded in uncertainty, endless attacks have continued against civilians in Cameroon’s Anglophone Regions, where over 6,000 people have been killed in a separatist armed conflict.
More than one million people have also been displaced by the conflict and peace has remained illusionary in many parts of the Anglophone Regions.
Civilians have continued to live in fear of both the military and separatist fighters both of which have been committed grave abuses against civilians.
Mimi Mefo Info