Cameroon’s army launched a “special operation” against anglophone separatists on Wednesday in Bamenda, the capital of the English-speaking northwest region, bringing the city to a halt.
The country’s northwest and southwest regions have been gripped by conflict since separatists declared independence in 2017 after decades of grievances at perceived discrimination by the francophone majority.
After the recent murder of a police inspector in Bamenda, the army said in a statement Tuesday that “defense and security forces have engaged in a special operation to secure the city.”
Called “Clean Bamenda,” it is the first time the federal government has launched such a military operation in the city.
The #Anglophoneconflict has inflicted deadly violence & human rights abuses against Cameroonians. The int’l community must do more to speak out against these atrocities & engage all sides to pursue an inclusive & constructive path toward peace & stability. https://t.co/WClwIgKcZE
— U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee (@SenateForeign) September 8, 2020
One official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP that Bamenda markets and streets were deserted Wednesday.
A Bamenda resident said he had not been able to leave the house all morning because in his neighborhood even small businesses had shut their doors. “I didn’t see anyone going to the fields, to the market, or to the office,” he added. Another resident said that they had witnessed an army raid.
Bamenda’s mayor restricted the movement of motorcycle taxis on Saturday.
Local media reported a rumor that in response to the move, separatist forces had warned Bamenda residents not to drive.
No part of the separatist movement has said they called for a “dead city” protest, a method it has previously used to bring cities to a standstill.
Lawyer Nicodemus Amungwa told AFP that his client Julius Sisiku Ayuk Tabe — the imprisoned main separatist leader and self-proclaimed president of the anglophone breakaway state of “Ambazonia” — had not given “any order for a dead city or restricted circulation”.
The army said the Bamenda operation was in response to “various attacks perpetrated by terrorists such as theft and looting, robberies of banks and shops, and the assassinations of civilians and personnel of the defense forces.”
Tensions were heightened on Friday when the authorities said “secessionist terrorists” were responsible for the killing of a police inspector shot while patrolling the city’s streets on September 1.