Minister ambushed in restive region, ‘assailants killed’
Aconvoy transporting Cameroonian Defence Minister Joseph Beti Assomo was ambushed in the country’s restive anglophone region, leaving several attackers dead, state radio said yesterday.
Four soldiers and a reporter were also injured in Thursday’s attack, other sources said, while the journalist said the convoy was ambushed again just a short time later. News of the brazen assault came as the country’s 85-year-old president Paul Biya — who has ordered a crackdown in the troubled region — declared yesterday he would bid for a seventh consecutive term in office.
Journalist Gregoire Djarmaila, who writes for the state daily the Cameroon Tribune and was injured by flying glass, said the attack occurred as Beti Assomo was heading for a visit to a military position seven kilometres from the town of Kumba.
The convoy comprised about 30 vehicles, including an armourplated vehicle that was carrying the minister and six generals, he said. It encountered a roadblock about halfway along the route, “and our vehicles were riddled by gunfire, coming from houses that been abandoned because of the war,” Djarmaila said.
The military escort returned fire, enabling the convoy to reach the military post.
“But no sooner had we left the post than we were attacked again. This time, they looked more numerous and determined... (they fired) on all the vehicles in the convoy.” Djarmaila said that “our good luck was that they were using home-made hunting guns” rather than military weapons, adding that he experienced “40 minutes of hell.”
The ambush occurred in the heartland of an armed campaign to gain independence for the Northwest and Southwest Regions, a predominantly English-speaking part of the French-speaking West African state. Years of resentment at perceived discrimination at the hands of the francophone majority fuelled demands in 2016 for a return to the country’s federal structure.
Biya took a hard line, ruling out any concessions.
As the situation polarised, anglophone militants last October 1 made a symbolic declaration of independence. They named Buea, the main town of Southwest Region which lies close to Kumba, as the capital of their purported state, Ambazonia.
It has no international recognition. A government crackdown then followed, plunging the two regions into almost daily acts of violence and retribution that have claimed scores of lives and forced tens of thousands from their homes.
The violence has coincided with bloody cross-border incursions in northern Cameroon by Nigeria’s Boko Haram militants.
The twin crises have cast a dark shadow over a presidential election scheduled for October 7 — a fact that Biya, who has been head of state for 35 years, appeared to acknowledge in his announcement on Twitter.