Voice of America (Washington, DC)

18 August 2014

Cameroon Villagers Flee Boko Haram Cross-Border Attacks

Yaounde — Fotocol, a Cameroonian town across the border from Nigeria's Borno state - the base of the Islamist group Boko Haram - looks deserted.

So, too, are many surrounding villages where stray bullets regularly strike houses, killing people and animals, when Boko Haram gunmen carry out attacks.

Cameroon's border area are becoming increasingly deserted due to persistent attacks, looting and kidnappings by suspected members of the militant group.

Government officials are pleading with the former residents to return, but the residents say they fear for their safety.

Government posts

In addition, many government workers sent to the border localities are leaving the area.

Secondary school teacher Asanji Paul is promising never to return to Fotocol.

"You cannot be in a place where there is no peace. You know that at any one point in time, your life is not safe," Paul said.

Paul also told VOA that he was advising other Cameroonians to move away from border areas with Nigeria.

"My own opinion [is that] I will not advise them to stay there," he said.

The fear of the militant group is affecting those doing in business in the border areas as well.

Truck drivers are refusing to transport food items to the border area, and huge quantities of cotton, onions and other farm produce are piling up. Some business owners have fled for their lives.

Ngum Peter, who has been a barber in Fotocol for eight years, left the region with his wife and three children.

Peter told VOA that those who are still in Fotocol should be on the alert.

"I am really afraid of them [Boko Haram]. If you are not secured where you are, just better leave the place. I am still afraid of the zone, so I can't let my people stay there," Peter said.

Citizens say they are at risk

Late last month, Boko Haram militants kidnapped the wife of Cameroon's vice prime minister and killed at least three people in a cross-border attack involving more than 200 assailants in the northern town of Kolofata, Cameroon officials say.

The fleeing residents argue that if the wife of a high-level official could be kidnapped from the border area, then they as civilians are at great risk from Boko Haram.

Fotocol shares a boundary with Gamboru, a Nigerian village that is frequently attacked by Boko Haram fighters.

The extremists opened fire on residents in May in an attack people said left at least 300 villagers dead.

Kolofata, a town not far from Fotocol, is deserted.

Cameroon government officials have been pleading with the people to return.

Babila Akao, the highest government official in Mayo Sava division where Kolofata is located, said the military is able to protect the population from Boko Haram.

"Many people have left their villages and gone away because of insecurity. Measures have been taken to ensure security along the border localities. For defense forces the hierarchy is aware of the difficulties they are facing on the field and some measures have been taken and in a few days they will be at ease to carry out their activities," Akao said.

However, residents have not heeded his suggestion to return.

The hardline Boko Haram group has massacred, kidnapped and looted several times in the areas, even with the government military nearby.

About 500 soldiers have been deployed in Kolofata, Fotocol and the surrounding area to provide security for residents.

Cameroon shares a 2,000-kilometer border with Nigeria and is increasingly targeted by Boko Haram.

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