Libreville | The international human rights organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Thursday accused the Cameroonian army of having killed “at least nine civilians” on January 10 in English-speaking areas in the grip of a bloody separatist conflict.
The army, which for nearly four years has been fighting independentist armed groups in two western regions populated mainly by the English-speaking Cameroonian minority, denied the next day, claiming only to have killed “a few terrorists” in the village of Mautu.
“About fifty soldiers who arrived on foot (…) began to shoot indiscriminately as people fled,” said HRW in a statement, citing numerous witnesses and local NGOs. The soldiers “killed at least nine civilians” including “a 50-year-old woman and a 6-year-old girl,” says the NGO. She also accuses the military of having “looted dozens of homes” in Mautu.
On the day of the tragedy, several videos and photos were posted on social networks, including one showing a woman and a child clearly killed by gunshots and another several men lying on the ground. HRW claims to have “been able to match the victims filmed with the descriptions of victims who have been established to have been killed” and concludes that the videos “were indeed shot in the hours following the attack”.
From January 11, the army had assured in a statement that the soldiers had “carried out a preventive raid on the positions of terrorist groups” in Mautu, in the South-West region, which “had immediately opened fire on them” . In the response, “some terrorists were neutralized” during an operation carried out “in strict compliance with the rules of engagement”, according to the army, which had however announced “a careful investigation”. Its results have not been made public to date.
International NGOs and the UN regularly denounce crimes and abuses committed against civilians by the two camps, armed separatists and soldiers, in the English-speaking regions of the North West and South West.
On January 12, France had “condemned” the murder of “eight civilians” in Mautu, calling on the authorities to “shed light” on “an unjustifiable crime”, without attributing the responsibility to anyone. On July 15, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres “took note of the government’s desire to open an investigation” into this tragedy which had “at least 10 civilian deaths”.
Civilians are frequently victims of crimes and abuses on both sides, according to international NGOs and the UN. This conflict has left more than 3,000 dead and forced more than 700,000 people to flee their homes.