9 April 2014

Cameroon: Doubts Over Claims of Arms Cache Find

The announcement of the discovery in Cameroon of a large cache of arms and ammunition intended for Boko Haram insurgents in Nigeria is regarded in some quarters as government propaganda.

There was alarm in northern Cameroon when it was announced in early April that two Italian priests and a nun had been kidnapped by suspected members of the Islamist sect Boko Haram, which is waging an insurgency in neighboring Nigeria.

The whereabouts of the three are still unknown. But as news of their disappearance was breaking, the Cameroonian government announced it had seized a huge cache of arms and ammunition ostensibly destined for Boko Haram. However it now seems that the mysterious arms find could be a complete fabrication.

An announcement on Cameroon's state radio appeared to leave no doubt. "The governor of the Far North Region has congratulated the forces of law and order and administrative authorities of Logone and Chari Division for impounding a huge quantity of arms and ammunition which was being smuggled for onward supply to the Boko Haram group." The radio station went on to say that Cameroonian defense forces had seized some 5,400 firearms.

Boko Haram in northern Cameroon

Boko Haram is fighting to establish an Islamic state ruled solely by Sharia law. The sect is based in northeastern Nigeria and is very active on Cameroon's northern border.

The media in Cameroon have been reporting for some time that the Islamist group was using Cameroon's northern territories as training grounds for its fighters.

These reports have been denied by the government in Yaounde. The seizure of the weapons, said government spokesman Issa Tchiroma Bakari, was a clear sign that the Cameroonian government saw the Islamist fighters as a threat and would not tolerate them pursuing their aims from Cameroonian territory.

"This [the find] is the best way to deny any allegations that Cameroon is being used as a base for insurgents for the destabilization of other countries," Bakari told DW's correspondent in Cameroon.

Villagers deny government claims

The government says the firearms were seized in a small village called Kekte.

However, villagers interviewed by DW's correspondent said they knew nothing about such a find or alleged Boko Haram activity in the area. Village chief Alim Bachir said he believed it could be a case of government propaganda. He said that, had there been any weapons in the vicinity, he would certainly have known about them.

The government also claimed it had arrested several Islamist fighters when the firearms were discovered. They are said to be in detention in the northern town of Kolofata. However, the town's Muslim leader Imam Hamaounde dismissed the claims.

When confronted with the statements by Chief Bachir and Imam Hamaounde, government spokesman Bachari refused to comment other than to say the statements contradicting the government's version of events were defamatory.

In March Nigeria asked its neighbors Cameroon, Niger and Chad to join it in creating a task force to fight terrorism in the region.

All four are members of the Lake Chad Basin Commission and work closely together to monitor and coordinate actions that could affect the level and quality of water in the lake.

Cameroon's response at the time was to say it would only contribute troops when absolutely necessary. In the meantime, it says it will make sure its northern territories are safe for the people living there.

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