Cameroon minister ambushed in restive region, ‘assailants killed’

In this file photo taken on November 12, 2014 shows Cameroonian soldiers patroling in Amchide, northern Cameroon. (AFP)
Updated 14 July 2018

Cameroon minister ambushed in restive region, ‘assailants killed’

  • UN says 160,000 people have been internally displaced and 20,000 have sought refuge in neighboring Nigeria
  • The French colony gained independence in 1960, becoming Cameroon

YAOUNDE: A convoy transporting Cameroonian Defense Minister Joseph Beti Assomo was ambushed in the country’s restive anglophone region, leaving several attackers dead, state radio said Friday.
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 Friday 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 kilometers (about four miles) from the town of Kumba.
The convoy comprised about 30 vehicles, including an armor-plated 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 fueled demands in 2016 for a return to the country’s federal structure.
Biya took a hard line, ruling out any concessions.
As the situation polarized, 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.

Meanwhile, on Friday a non-governmental organization, the Center for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa, said 20 civilians were killed by the Cameroon army in two areas of the anglophone northwest region.
Fifteen civilians including a teacher and seven members of his family including his wife and three children, were killed on Thursday in Batibo, the group said in a statement posted on social media.
On Wednesday, it added, at Bambili, five students were ordered out of their beds during the night and killed.
Cameroon authorities were unavailable to comment on the allegations.
The violence has coincided with bloody cross-border incursions in northern Cameroon by Nigeria’s Boko Haram jihadists.
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.
“I will be your candidate in the next presidential election,” he said, adding that he was “aware of the challenges that we must face together for a Cameroon that is even more united, stable and prosperous.”
The main opposition, the Social Democratic Front (SDF), has already designated its candidate, Joshua Osih.
Other declared candidates include Akere Muna, a lawyer and former vice president of Transparency International, and Maurice Kamto, head of the Movement for the Rebirth of Cameroon (MRC).
The presence of a large English-speaking minority in Cameroon dates back to the colonial period.
The former German colony was divided between Britain and France after World War I.
The French colony gained independence in 1960, becoming Cameroon. The following year, the British-ruled Southern Cameroons were amalgamated into it, giving rise to the Northwest and Southwest regions.
According to a government report last month, anglophone separatists have killed 74 soldiers and seven police since late 2017 while more than 100 civilians had died “over the past 12 months.”
The toll has risen sharply since then. Since the start of this week alone, at least three policeman, including a superintendent, have been killed, and fighting erupted for several hours in Buea itself.
UN says 160,000 people have been internally displaced and 20,000 have sought refuge in neighboring Nigeria.

Bangladesh to relocate 100,000 Rohingya refugees despite HRW warning

Rohingya refugees at a market at the Hakimpara refugee camp on Sunday. (AFP)
Updated 9 min 21 sec ago

Bangladesh to relocate 100,000 Rohingya refugees despite HRW warning

  • I think the government may consider the relocation of the refugees after the general election: Bangladeshi relief management secretary

DHAKA: The Bangladesh government claims to have completed all necessary preparations to relocate 100,000 Rohingya refugees to the newly formed Bhashan Char (floating island) in the Bay of Bengal.

The government has rendered a deaf ear to concerns raised by climate change experts, human rights activists and the refugee community itself about the idea of relocation to the floating island who call the desolate place “uninhabitable.”

Shah Kamal, disaster and relief management secretary of the Bangladesh government, said the government has completed “90 percent of preparations in this regard.” 

He told Arab News that the Bangladesh navy is assisting in construction units for Rohingya refugees and building a dam to protect the island from high tides and cyclones. 

“Our government has built 120 cyclone centers and 141 sheds to ensure comfortable living for Rohingya. Here, the inhabitants will enjoy proper sanitation and bathroom facilities as well,” Kamal said. 

“Each of the sheds will accommodate 16 families and the refugees here will get the opportunities for livelihood through cattle rearing, vegetable cultivation and other income-generating chores,” he added. 

However, although the preparations are almost over, Kamal could not confirm the exact date when the authorities will start the relocation process. 

“I think the government may consider the relocation of the refugees after the general election which is scheduled to take place on Dec. 30,” he said. 

The US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has strongly opposed the relocation idea. In its recent 68-page report, the HRW warned that the floating island is still “uninhabitable” and “formed only in the last 20 years by silt from Bangladesh’s Meghna River.” 

The island can be “completely submerged during an event of high tide” which will endanger the lives of the people on the island, the report said.

Security concerns

According to HRW, the island is completely separated from the mainland by about 30 kilometers, which would “essentially turn the island into a detention center.” 

Responding to the HRW report, Kamal said: “We have taken all safety measures and addressed all the relevant security concerns.” 

The Rohingya refugees who are proposed for relocation to the island have also strongly rejected the idea.

Abdul Awal, 35, a refugee living in Kutupalang camp, told Arab News: “This relocation to the island will restrict all our movement and eventually it will be a sort of isolation from the mainland. I don’t think any of my fellow refugees will comply with this idea.”

Mohammad Akkas, 42, another refugee of the Jamtoli camp, said: “I have heard about the relocation. However, it’s not clear to me what will happen during the devastating cyclones and medical emergencies. Is it practical to travel 30 kilometers through the rough sea during any emergency situation?“

Climate experts and human rights activists in the country also echoed the voice of the HRW, which opposed the idea of relocation now. 

Dr. Shahidul Islam, a renowned climate change expert from Bangladesh, termed the island as “the most vulnerable place for human beings.”

 “This area is highly prone to high tide and cyclone. During any high tide, the island may be completely submerged under water,” said Islam, a professor at Dhaka University.

 He believes that this relocation will cause “serious ecological” repercussions and create “ocean pollution” in the Bay of Bengal.

 “It may also increase the risk of international human trafficking since the area is isolated from the mainland and accessible to the traffickers through water,” Islam said.

“Already, in Cox’s Bazar, huge environmental damage has been caused by the Rohingyas. Now, if they are relocated to the newly built Bhashan Char, it will also create irreparable loss to the ecology and environment of the island,” Islam said. 

Nur Khan, an eminent human rights activist, said the relocation would “isolate the refugees from the mainland and will make them vulnerable to natural disasters.” 

“However, if it is inevitable that the refugees will be relocated to the island, the government can make it free for all the concerned stakeholders so they all can experience the reality on ground and make suggestions on the relocation idea,” Khan pointed out.

“Considering the present circumstances, I can’t support the refugees’ relocation at this moment,” especially since the HRW has also identified six other feasible relocation sites in its report, said Khan.