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Concerning Trends: Conflict Spreading & IEDs

I want to draw attention to a series of concerning trends that are being overlooked. These trends worry me, especially when considering the long-term negative trajectory of the Anglophone Crisis.

Conflict Spreading Outside the Anglophone Regions

On Sunday, a rare attack occurred outside the Anglophone Regions. According to reports,  a police station and Gendarmerie post in Galim, West Region. The attack killed at least 8, including two policemen and two gendarmes. Firstly, this is another example of the growing reach, ability,  and confidence of separatist groups. To be able to launch an attack some 4 miles into a neighboring region is not the work of an amateur group of ‘ragtag’ rebels. Furthermore, reports describe both targets being hit simultaneously, which shows how this was a well-coordinated, pre-planned attack. I’ve also read accounts that suggest they were deliberately targeting those areas to retrieve weapons and supplies, and video evidence suggests that they were successful in that aim, retrieving multiple AK-variants, FALs and a Beretta PM12 submachine gun. They also took a quantity of body armour and tactical equipment. I have heard suggestions of the existence of some kind Ambazonian ‘Special Forces’ before, and whilst I still think this is largely propaganda, there is clearly a trusted separatist unit capable of performing more sophisticated raids.

Secondly (and more importantly), by its nature the Anglophone Crisis has been limited to only the Anglophone regions of Cameroon. There have been two previous incursions into the neighboring regions, but those were not as sophisticated as Sunday’s attack. Is this a new stage of the conflict, where cross-border raids become more common? Where (and what) is within reach of such raids? If it does become a new dynamic, how would the populations of the adjacent regions respond?

This could be a really significant shift in the crisis, but only time will tell. It certainly feels different to the previous cross-border incidents. This is something to watch.

The Growing Usage of IEDs

Also on Sunday, the Women’s Day Parade in Bamenda was hit by a brutal bomb attack, carried out by separatist forces. 1 soldier was killed with up to 8 other people wounded. Graphic imagery released of the soldiers in medical facilities reveal terrible, life-changing injuries. Separatists have been developing their IED capability over time, with a few videos showing past training and test attempts. At least one government Toyota was hit by a small mine at one point during an ambush, and more recently (and famously), an armoured convoy was hit by a larger IED earlier in 2020. So this is not a ‘new’ thing, but it is the most successful attack thus far.

IEDs are a powerful, deadly tool, and are a cornerstone of modern insurgency. They act as a force multiplier, and they caused the international coalitions in Afghanistan and Iraq to lose hundreds of troops. They accounted for up to 63% of coalition deaths in Iraq by 2007. The stories of British soldiers being killed by IEDs in inadequate ‘Snatch’ Land Rovers will remain etched in the minds of the British defence community for a long time to come. That is the problem with IEDs- they are weapons of terror, and can have a severe political cost. They are indiscriminate weapons, and so will leave anybody in the vicinity- civilian or soldier- dead or with terrible, life-changing injuries. And they can go wrong. That IED planted for an army convoy will still go off if a civilian bus drives over it. That political cost can be both local and international too, as their usage can quickly temper any sympathy from abroad. Boko Haram use IEDs, suicide bombers and the like. Is there a danger of separatist groups becoming not dissimilar to a group they claim to be so different from?

There is also something to be written on the Fulani/Mbororo element, but that will have to wait for another time. 

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PSS Kwen Kidnapping: The Truth Prevails

Despite the release of the 80 or so students at PSS Kwen, very little information has been forthcoming about the circumstances of the incident and their release. This project has always been about the truth and nothing but the truth, and this morning I am pleased to be able to share crucial new evidence that sheds significant light on the incident.

Importantly, the video is confirmed as stemming from this kidnapping incident. Some students are wearing PSS Kwen shirts, whilst others can be matched up to images of the students during their release. Examples of this are shown in the slideshow below the video.

Presented without comment- a video that gets at the heart of both this incident and the Anglophone Crisis as a whole.

Billy Burton

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

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The Death of Charles Wesco

Today we learned of the tragic death of Charles Trumann Wesco, an American missionary, near Bamenda, in Northwest Cameroon. Mr. Wesco arrived in the country two weeks ago, working as a missionary with his wife and eight children. The Wesco family initially began their relationship with Cameroon in 2015 during a survey visit, and had arrived only two weeks ago for their latest stint in the country. On a shopping trip to Bamenda, Charles Wesco was struck by a bullet whilst travelling in a Toyota 4×4 with his friend and members of his family, later dying in a local hospital. Initial reports immediately placed the blame on Cameroonian security forces, although this will inevitably be subject to significant debate in the coming days.

Firstly, I would like to express my sincere condolences to the Wesco family, their fellow missionaries and friends in Cameroon, and their wider church family in the United States. There are no words that can alleviate their shock, horror and loss at this time. I take solace in the fact that Mr. Wesco’s journey as a missionary was guided by a profoundly deep calling to serve his lord in Cameroon, and that he was thus where he thought he was needed- and belonged. A family with deeply religious connections, I have no doubt that the Wesco family will find themselves enveloped in the love and healing of their community. For now, though, I wish them nothing but the best in recovering from this traumatic event. This was not your war, not your conflict, and yet it has changed your lives. May you find peace.

The blame game for this incident has already begun. Local sources reported immediately that he had been killed by Cameroonian security forces, however the Cameroonian government have taken the line that he was killed by ‘terrorists’ (separatist fighters) in the region. It is not my place to speculate on what really happened.

What I will say is this:

The Anglophone Crisis has spiralled out of control. Cameroon’s security forces no longer have a firm grip over the region, being challenged across Northwest and Southwest Cameroon by a variety of separatist groups. Their campaign of brutality, littered with clear evidence of significant human rights abuses, has not only alienated the local population but also fuelled the conflict itself. Far from ‘crushing’ the Ambazonian movement, it has invigorated it- given it life, given it blood, created martyrs. Cameroon’s Special Forces, the Israeli-trained and equipped BIR, led a campaign marked by similar abuses against Boko Haram, but now these tactics, similar to a combination of ‘Search and Destroy’ and ‘Scorched Earth’ has seen hundreds of villages burnt, hundreds of civilians killed, and sources of food destroyed. Evidence has shown summary executions, torture, and people burned to death. The myriad abuses of Cameroon’s forces are severe enough that they will one day form part of an evidence dossier at an international court.

Whilst Cameroon’s tactics were to crush the Ambazonian movement, instead it has enlarged it, with armed groups increasing both in size and number. Where they once may have found a sympathetic local population, they now find ghost towns and cities where people have fled the violence, either to elsewhere in Cameroon or in neighbouring Nigeria. The Ambazonian armed groups have also become increasingly well-equipped over time, replacing their obsolete ‘Dane Guns’ with weapons captured from Cameroonian troops, with some evidence of arms reaching them from further afield. They do not have the firepower to go toe to toe with Biya’s troops by any means, but they are certainly in a stronger position than they were.

In every village, there is a story of brutality, a tale of death and destruction. If President Biya is not careful, behind every blade of grass he will find a rebel.

At the same time, abuses have also been perpetrated by separatist groups, and these too must be addressed. Whilst in scale they are outweighed by the actions of Cameroonian forces, it is important to recognise that separatist groups have committed acts that would be considered abuses. The enforced closure of schools across the two regions is denying a generation of children an education, and the summary justice dished out to suspected sympathisers must not go unnoticed.

The Anglophone Crisis was once the Anglophone Problem, but now it is an Anglophone War. This represents an absolute failure of Cameroon’s government to address Anglophone concerns in the past, but also that of the international community to put sufficient pressure on Biya’s regime to prevent abuses, or even to attempt to prevent the slide into conflict. The Ambazonian diaspora and NGOs have been calling for international attention and monitoring of the situation, however these calls ultimately went unheeded.

Instead, the Anglophone Crisis has spiralled out of control into a serious conflict that further destabilises the fragile Great Lakes region. The lack of international leadership is nothing short of a disgrace, and had up until this point been measured by South Cameroonian blood- but now a price has been paid in American blood too.

Enough is enough. The time for international dialogue is past- the time for international action is now. It is imperative that the cycle of violence is broken, that aid is allowed to flow to the communities that desperately need it, and that the grievances of the Anglophone population are properly addressed.

In the past I have called for an international, impartial monitoring mission (as supported in theory by the UK) to establish the facts on the ground. I believe that the window of opportunity for this operation has now passed. The situation has deteriorated too much- Peacekeepers and Peacebuilders are now required. The notion of a UN-sponsored independence referendum has been mooted on a few occasions, and this would be a logical step if Cameroon’s government is unwilling to compromise on any form of renewed federalism. Biya’s controversial election has also created discord in the Francophone population, with Maurice Kamto still proclaiming victory- Cameroon is as weak as perhaps it has ever been, and the Anglophone Crisis threatens the integrity of Cameroon itself, as well as the wider region.

There will be masses of media attention over the next few days, as the tragic loss of Charles Wesco will reverberate around every corner of the United States of America, and further afield.

As utterly awful as Wesco’s death is, it is a dreadful indictment of the international community that it took the death of one American to put the Anglophone Crisis on the international agenda- and not the deaths of hundreds of Africans.

Yet again.

Rest in Peace, Charles Wesco. May your legacy be that of righteous peace.

Political

Election Violence Fears in Anglophone Cameroon

Planned election sparks escalation fears in Cameroon’s Anglophone Regions.

Approaching national elections in Cameroon are feared to further destabilise the Anglophone regions of the Central African country, which have been in a state of crisis for months. Due to be held in October, the elections have already met stiff, hard-line resistance from separatist leaders in the area, denouncing their legitimacy and banning local populations from taking part. This has been met with considerable enthusiasm on the ground, however Cameroon’s growing military presence in the area suggests that this will be heavily contested during the election period. Previous articles by the ACMP warned correctly of a surge in violence, which has been reflected in widespread skirmishes, ambushes and killings across the entirety of the Anglophone Regions. The ACMP believes that the threat posed by the elections is far more significant, due to the political ramifications of further years under the authority of President Paul Biya. Namely, separatist elements believe that now is the time for change- and are very unlikely to accept anything less.

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It is evident that little is going to change under the leadership of 85-year old Paul Biya, who has ruled Cameroon since 1982. If including his period as Prime Minister from 1975, President Biya is the current longest serving non-royal head of state in the world, which has naturally attracted significant international scrutiny over the years. Regular accusations of electoral fraud and irregularities, particularly associated with his 1992 re-election, have led to widespread voter abstention in the past, with an air of resigned inevitability about his re-election. Presidential term limits, the only real obstacle to Biya’s continued rule over Cameroon, were removed in 2008, clearing the path for Biya to rule Cameroon for as long as he desires. At 85-years old already, Biya would be into his nineties by the time of the next election, and rumours regularly abound about the state of the veteran President’s health. It has been suggested that there could be a link between Biya’s health and the extraordinary amount of time the President spends abroad, particularly in Switzerland.

With extremely limited dialogue between the Anglophone Separatist leadership and the Cameroonian government, major clashes during the election period seem inevitable in the Anglophone Regions. There is a deeply rooted desire to prevent the elections from taking place in the Southern Cameroons, with separatist elements vowing to target electoral infrastructure, whilst hard-line stances from commanders on the ground have seen populations banned from voting, and voter cards destroyed so as not to endorse the Cameroonian government. With a vast backdrop of violence, destruction and discrimination perpetrated against the Anglophone population, it is understood that the planned disruption has widespread support in communities across the Anglophone region. With increasing Cameroonian military forces being deployed to the area- in particular the Western-trained, Israeli-equipped BIR (‘Brigades Interventions Rapides’), ACMP has serious concerns about the level of violence anticipated during the election period.

Recent evidence has shown that the Anglophone separatists- fighting for the independence of ‘Ambazonia’- are having some success in a guerrilla war campaign against Cameroon’s forces, with regular reports of Cameroonian government losses, even to its famed BIR. However, separatists have also suffered some significant losses, with the loss of a base containing dozens of firearms, including captured assault rifles, representing a blow to their cause. The election period has the potential to deeply embed the Ambazonian cause in the hearts and minds of Anglophone Cameroon, with every Ambazonian loss perhaps considered a martyr at a time of great political consequence.

Ultimately, there is a serious risk of a major escalation in violence during the election period, with the only saving grace being that the country will be under greater international scrutiny during this time. With widespread violence now raging across the region, the ACMP encourages dialogue between the sides to establish common ground in the hope of securing a peaceful future- be it through a referendum, greater autonomy or unilateral independence. The ACMP proposes a future conference between the sides, held in a neutral state, at which possible solutions could be discussed. Without this, the Anglophone Crisis will become interminable.

Billy Burton (Anglophone Crisis Monitoring Project)

 

 

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On the Brink- Escalation Imminent in the Southern Cameroons.

With consistent violent incidents and clashes between separatist fighters and LRC government forces in recent weeks, the Anglophone crisis shows little evidence of calming down. No meaningful diplomatic solution has been attempted by either side, and targeted killings continue to draw the attention of the international media. It is evident that Biya’s military forces are now under the gaze of the world, with the UN and other organizations making statements on the crisis. International action has not followed, however, and so it is imperative that the ACMP, activists on the ground and the wider Ambazonian diaspora continue to ensure that the situation in Cameroon is not ignored.

Today, the Anglophone Crisis Monitoring Project calls for international mediation between the belligerents in order to avoid a major escalation that is possible to follow in the coming months. ACMP has become aware of unconfirmed plans for escalation by an individual separatist organization or organizations that follow the model of successful insurgencies across the world, involving the attacking and destruction of economically important resource sites in the region. Notably, separatists have already attacked multiple sites of political significance- police facilities etc., however economically vital sites such as major infrastructural routes (train lines), pipelines and other facilities would all be vulnerable under such an initiative. This approach is a logical evolution in the strategy of separatist fighters that do not have the firepower to go toe-to-toe with LRC government forces.

Images of Ambazonian separatists continue to show them using hunting rifles and shotguns, together with occasional Kalashnikov rifles or the Serbian derivatives used by Cameroon’s military, including the Zastava M21. Serbian weapons in separatist’s hands are few and have likely been captured from dead Cameroonian soldiers or government facilities. These weapons remain few and far between, however, and traditional hunting rifles are by far the most common weapon type in the hands of separatists. These weapons are militarily obsolete, and despite the best efforts of some separatists, they are not appropriate for a head-on engagement with Cameroonian forces due to the vast disparity in firepower and equipment.

There is an obvious desire within separatist units for more effective and more advanced weaponry, and ACMP has long considered the reality of this prospect to be highly likely for two reasons. Firstly, there are a number of armed groups operating in the region including Boko Haram, from whom it would be possible to buy weapons fairly easily. Secondly, Cameroon shares a long, porous border with both Chad and the Central African Republic, between which it would be relatively easy to move arms shipments. ACMP has been waiting for evidence and confirmation of intelligence that suggested that an arms shipment had been received, which would indicate an imminent escalation of hostilities.

ACMP can today reveal that we believe this to be the case, with a cache of what are believed to be Chinese Type 56 rifles and other derivatives being received by elements that are sympathetic to the Ambazonian cause, complete with ammunition and magazines. Whether they are currently in the region of the Southern Cameroons is currently unknown. These weapons are very common in conflicts across the world, being Chinese-made versions of the Kalashnikov, but they represent a step-change in capability and firepower for separatist ‘restoration forces’. The issue of LRC armoured vehicles remains, however, occasional images of RPGs have also been noted in the use of restoration forces.

ACMP has been warning and lobbying British and European politicians for a considerable amount of time with the regards to the potential for this conflict to accelerate into a much more serious situation approaching a full-on civil war. Despite our efforts, little to no action has been taken on the international stage to begin resolving this crisis. The Cameroonian military continues to commit unlawful targeted killings and other recorded major incidents. Restoration forces continue to attack facilities and individuals with ties to the Cameroonian government.

This is the most dangerous moment in the Anglophone Crisis to date. In response to continued Cameroonian abuses in the region, separatist elements have acquired vastly more effective weapons, and we stand on the precipice of a very serious war developing in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon. ACMP again repeats its call for an immediate international observer mission excluding France and other involved parties, together with a diplomatic approach aimed at mediating between the two sides.

The warnings of the ACMP have been left unheeded- and so now we are headed into a new stage of the Anglophone Crisis.