Cameroonian separatists abduct female protesters | WORLD
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Cameroonian separatists abduct female protesters

The act renews attention on the yearslong unrest between government officials and rebels

A man stands in what is left of his house that was burnt down by Cameroonian military forces in conflict with separatists in Anglophone territories in January 2019. Getty Images/Photo by Giles Clarke/UNOCHA

Cameroonian separatists abduct female protesters

More than 30 women are prisoners of separatist rebels in Cameroon after their abduction earlier this month.

Regional official Simon Emil Mooh said the rebels seized the women from Babanki, a farming village near the Nigerian border in the restive North West region.

The abduction is the latest in ongoing separatist violence that has plagued the Central African country for years with no signs of abating.

Violence has plagued Cameroon’s English-speaking North West and South West regions for years with no signs of abating. The unrest began as peaceful protests late in 2016 when English speakers, who make up 20 percent of the country’s population, demanded more representation in schools and courts.

But the resulting government crackdown enflamed English-speaking separatist groups, who now call the region the independent state of Ambazonia. In 2018, American missionary Charles Wesco died in the crossfire between security forces and separatists in the northwestern city of Bamenda. Attacks continue to target civilians, healthcare centers, and schools. Local leaders accused the Ambazonia Governing Council of this month’s abduction.

In 2019, the government granted special status to the regions in response to their demands for autonomy, but that failed to quell the unrest. Since fighting broke out in 2016, more than 6,000 people have died, and at least 715,000 others have been displaced.

According to officials, the rebels targeted the women because they protested illegal tax collecting in the region. Mooh said rebels mandate monthly taxes for every individual, including men, women, and children. Couples also pay taxes before they wed, and families pay $1,000 to bury their dead.

Capo Daniel, a former spokesperson for the separatist faction, said the kidnappers accused the women of allowing Cameroon’s government to manipulate them.

The Center for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa condemned this month’s abduction. The advocacy group pointed to an unverified video showing the abducted women pleading for freedom as their captors threatened to kill them.

“The abduction of civilian women not taking any active part in hostilities is clearly a war crime and a crime against humanity,” said the center’s president, Felix Agbor Nkongho.

In January, Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly said in a statement that Canada had accepted a request to facilitate dialogue between Cameroon and the separatist groups. But days later, Cameroon denied asking any foreign country to help mediate.

According to the International Crisis Group, Cameroonian authorities are also battling a Boko Haram insurgency that has killed more than 3,000 Cameroonians and displaced about 250,000 others. The research group said the tumultuous relationship between the central government and Cameroon’s English-speaking regions includes years of frustration, mistrust, and gruesome violence.

“Unpacking and addressing the two sides’ differences will take time, effort, and good faith,” the group noted.

Onize Ohikere

Onize is WORLD’s Africa reporter and deputy global desk chief. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and earned a journalism degree from Minnesota State University–Moorhead. Onize resides in Abuja, Nigeria.


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