Cameroon Deploys Military to Troubled Regions for African Football Championship

Cameroon Deploys Military to Troubled Regions for African Football Championship.lelemuku.com.jpg

YAOUNDE, LELEMUKU.COM - Cameroon has deployed troops and armored cars to towns that will be hosting matches of the Africa Football Cup of Nations (AFCON) tournament in its troubled Southwest region. Cameroon is hosting the continent's top soccer tournament beginning Sunday, but the region's anglophone separatists have threatened to disrupt the games.

Residents of Cameroon’s Southwest region towns of Buea and Limbe say in the past two weeks there has been a noticeable increase in troops and military trucks on the streets.

The troubled Southwest region is one area of Cameroon that will be hosting Africa’s top soccer championship, the Africa Football Cup of Nations (AFCON).

21-year-old University of Bueau student Fabrice Tobi says security in the city is becoming watertight.

He spoke to VOA Wednesday via a messaging application.

"I was surprised with the amount{number} of armored cars and the troops entering Buea with the ones that were already there," said Tobi. "It is very difficult to leave from one area to the other in the city of Buea without meeting military or security men. In markets and even in student residential areas, they are everywhere. They do the controls. It is very difficult for you to leave your house without being checked or controlled."

Cameroon’s military confirmed that troops have been deployed to Buea and Limbe to protect football players, officials, and fans for the tournament. A spokesman declined to comment on the number of troops and armored vehicles deployed.

The southwestern towns will host group matches for teams from Gambia, Mali, Mauritania, and Tunisia.

Anglophone separatists fighting in Cameroon’s west to break away from the majority French-speaking nation have vowed to disrupt the games.

Tapang Ivo is spokesperson for the separatist group Ambazonia Defense Forces (ADF).

He says the ADF has warned the Confederation of African Football that AFCON matches should not take place in the towns, as the group is still fighting there with government troops.

"We vowed to fight the Cameroon military anywhere they are present in the entire territory of Ambazonia, whether it's during the AFCON games that we have banned or after, we will continue to fight them tooth and nail," said Tapang. "So we are avoiding a situation where visitors will be caught in crossfire. So, we are advising that AFCON must not be held in Ambazonia for the security concerns of visitors. They shouldn't be present where there is a war going on."

Within the past two months Buea has reported at least six attacks by separatist fighters.

The rebels took responsibility for November and December bombings at the University of Buea and the town’s Great Soppo Market that wounded at least 14 people.

The governor of Cameroon's Southwest region, Bernard Okalia Bilai, says civilians should report any rebel suspects hiding in their community.

"We will continue to sensitize the population, particularly towards vigilance. You know what happened in the Great Soppo market," said Bilai. "It is the population themselves who seized the bag and called gendarmes to come and destroy it. That is the behavior, the action, we are expecting from the population."

Bilai says residents and visitors should not be afraid of the separatists’ threats.

He says the separatists made similar threats when Limbe and Buea hosted matches of the African Nations Championship a year ago without incident.(Moki Edwin Kindzeka| VOA)

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