Boko Haram has been repelled, Cameroon’s leader declares

Cameroon’s President Paul Biya (C), accompagnied by his wife Chantal Biya, is running for re-election on October 7, 2018. (Alexis Huguet/AFP)
Updated 30 September 2018

Boko Haram has been repelled, Cameroon’s leader declares

  • The region for years has been the target of suicide bombings and other attacks by Boko Haram fighters
  • Boko Haram has not carried out a major attack in Cameroon in the past year and the number of attacks has fallen

YAOUNDE, Cameroon: Cameroon’s president says Boko Haram has been defeated in the country, the first such announcement since he declared war on the extremist group four years ago.
President Paul Biya spoke during his first visit to the Far North region since 2012 as he campaigned on Saturday ahead of the Oct. 7 election. The 85-year-old, one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders, has been in power since 1982 and is likely to win again as the fractured opposition has been unable to put forward a strong candidate.
Security is a major issue in Cameroon, a US and French military ally, as it also faces a bloody English-language separatist movement in the southwest and northwest.
Addressing a rally in Maroua, Biya said he would focus on rebuilding what has been destroyed in the Far North “now that terrorism has been defeated.”
The region for years has been the target of suicide bombings and other attacks by Boko Haram fighters who spilled over the border from Nigeria, where the extremist group is based. Nearly a quarter-million people in Cameroon have been displaced.
Boko Haram has not carried out a major attack in Cameroon in the past year and the number of attacks has fallen. Its fighters continue to attack military targets and cities in Nigeria’s northeast despite repeated government declarations that it has been “crushed.”
Biya warned Far North residents to remain vigilant despite recent progress including the re-opening last month of 40 schools along the border.
Not everyone warmed to the president’s comments at the rally.
Biya had abandoned the Far North and its people, said Garga Haman Adji, candidate with the Alliance for Democracy and Development opposition party.
“Biya never visited to encourage the soldiers who fought to defeat Boko Haram. He never visited people suffering from terrorism and is now here to beg for votes,” Garga said.
The fight against Boko Haram has raised questions about Cameroon’s security forces. Shocking videos that recently circulated online showed soldiers shooting defenseless civilians including women with young children strapped to their back, Amnesty International said after expert analysis.
Cameroon’s government has announced several arrests related to one of the videos and said any alleged abuses will be investigated.
Biya has not announced any campaign visits to the troubled southwest and northwest where fighting between government forces and the Anglophone separatists has killed nearly 400 people and sent nearly 200,000 civilians fleeing.
A heavy military deployment and recent crackdown on suspected separatist hideouts especially in the southwest, however, indicates that the president intends to visit in an effort to show the world that in spite of the tensions he remains in control.
Biya last visited the southwest in 2014 and the northwest in 2010.
The unrest began in 2016 when teachers and lawyers peacefully expressed dissatisfaction with what some English speakers, who make up about 20 percent of the country’s population, have called marginalization by French-speaking authorities in the officially bilingual country.
The armed separatist movement followed with the declaration of an independent state called “Ambazonia.” In recent weeks both weary civilians caught in the middle of the fighting and Cameroonian religious leaders have called for peace.
The separatists vow to disrupt next week’s elections.


US official warns Taliban attacks could derail Afghan peace

Updated 57 min ago

US official warns Taliban attacks could derail Afghan peace

  • Khalilzad urges militant group to honor ‘historic opportunity’ and end decades of war

KABUL: The US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation warned on Monday that increasing attacks by the Taliban could undermine the historic peace deal signed between Washington and the militant group
in February.

Zalmay Khalilzad also said the strikes could derail the ongoing intra-Afghan talks in Doha, Qatar, that look to end the protracted conflict in the country.

“Continued high levels of violence can threaten the peace process and the agreement, and the core understanding that there is no military solution. Violence today remains distressingly high in spite of the recent reaffirmation of the need for a substantial reduction,” he said in tweets on Monday.

Since last week, the Taliban have unleashed a series of attacks in parts of Afghanistan, particularly in the southern Helmand province, where more than 35,000 people have been displaced over recent days, Afghan officials told Arab News.

In response, US forces in the country launched several airstrikes on Taliban positions, which the insurgent group described as a breach of the February accord on Sunday.

Responding to the Taliban’s accusations, Khalilzad said they were “unfounded charges of violations and inflammatory rhetoric,” and “do not advance peace.”

Washington also accused the Taliban of breaking the historic agreement, which, among other things, looks to finalize a complete withdrawal of US-led troops from the country.

Khalilzad said the airstrikes were conducted to support Afghan troops as part of Washington’s commitment to defend them, if necessary.

He added that the Taliban attacks in Helmand, including some in the provincial capital that targeted Afghan security forces, led to a recent meeting in Doha where both sides agreed to “decrease attacks and strikes.” And while levels of violence in Helmand have fallen, it “remains high” across the country, the Afghan-born diplomat added.

Some Afghan observers said the motive behind Taliban attacks was to gain an “upper hand” in negotiations.

However, Khalilzad warned of the risks involved in using this strategy.

“The belief that says violence must escalate to win concessions at the negotiations table is risky. Such an approach can undermine the peace process and repeats past miscalculation by Afghan leaders,” he said, urging all sides to honor the “historic opportunity for peace, which must not be missed.”

Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, told Arab News on Monday that the group had “no comment” on Khalilzad’s statements and that US forces had “violated the Doha agreement in various forms by carrying out excessive airstrikes.”

Mujahid added that he had “no information” on the state of attacks in Helmand province.

However, Omar Zwak, a spokesman for Helmand’s governor, told Arab News that “fighting subsided in various parts of Helmand” over the past two days.

Meanwhile, an anonymous senior official in President Ashraf Ghani’s government praised Khalilzad for “beginning to get realistic” and “breaking silence over repeated Taliban attacks.”

Another figure, Kabul-based lawmaker Fawzia Zaki, said: “The government and Afghan people, in general, insisted on enforcement of a cease-fire or a drastic reduction of violence before the beginning of the intra-Afghan dialogue.”

For it to be effective, Khalilzad and Washington “need to exert growing pressure to make them listen to the righteous demands of ours,” Zaki added.

However, experts have warned of the “growing impatience” of both sides.

Shafiq Haqpal, an analyst, told Arab News: “Khalilzad’s comments clearly show that Washington is becoming impatient with Taliban attacks and the lack of progress in the talks.”

He said that US President Donald Trump is “hoping to see a breakthrough soon,” so that he can “portray it as a success of his administration for his re-election campaign.

“But that is not happening. Maybe Washington has realized that won’t happen, so they are beginning to come out and warn the Taliban against the consequences of their attacks,” Haqpal added.