8 January 2018

Nigeria Denies Cameroon Separatists' Claim That Leaders Were Arrested

Cameroonian anglophone separatists have claimed that their leaders were abducted in Abuja by what they believe to be Nigeria's intelligence agency. Nigerian officials have denied the allegations.

"At around 7:30 p.m., the gunmen came into the hotel and abducted all of them, including the president," said Chris Anu, secretary of communications for what Cameroon's English-speaking separatists have named the "state of Ambazonia." The separatist leader and six others were said to have been taken away during a meeting at the Neras Hotel in Abuja on Friday, January 5, 2018.

While the separatists and a number of local media outlets have claimed that the Nigerian intelligence agency (Department of State Services or DSS) is behind the disappearance, both Nigerian and Cameroonian authorities have refused to comment on the matter.

"There is no arrest of their people in Abuja," a Nigerian intelligence official told the news agency AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity. The official admitted that Nigeria had arrested Cameroonians in late December in the Taraba region which borders Cameroon.

"We saw most of them as refugees but when the Cameroonian authorities heard of the arrest, they protested to the inspector general of police that those people arrested were part of the people giving them trouble as secessionists," the official told AFP.

The UNHCR reported that it has registered over 7,000 Camerooniansfrom the Anglophone regions, who have fled the country into Nigeria. This has strained diplomatic ties between the two neighbors. Last month, Cameroonian troops crossed the border in pursuit of the separatists without seeking prior permission from Nigerian authorities. Nigerian High Commissioner to Cameroon, Lawan Abba Gashagar, however, met Cameroon's President Paul Biya and the two said that they would collaborate in fighting armed groups.

Origins of the crisis

The unrest in Cameroon began in November 2016, when English-speaking teachers and lawyers in the Northwest and Southwest regions took to the streets, calling for reforms and greater autonomy. They were frustrated with the dominance of the French language in official matters and with what they saw as the marginalization of Cameroon's Anglophone population.

The protests were followed by a harsh government crackdown, as well as internet shut-downs and arrests.

In October 2017, secessionist groups declared the independence of the so-called Anglophone "state" of Ambazonia. International rights groups say that between 20 and 40 people were killed in clashes since late September. According to Amnesty International, at least 500 people were detained in the aftermath of the announcement.

In Cameroon's English-speaking regions, there is mixed support for the separatists and their activities. Evaristus Njie, a businessman in the south-western capital Buea, told DW that he supported the separatists because he believed that English speaking Cameroonians were being marginalized. He would, however, like to see Cameroon become a federal republic. "The government has claimed that they are dialoguing with them. But how can they claim that they are talking with them for peace to return, while at the same time they arrest them? It is not good," he said.

Emmanuel Wiysahnyuy, a student, said that he supported the government in its actions. "The government is doing everything possible to arrest them so that peace can return," he said.

Low school attendance

On Monday, January 8 government schools resumed after the Christmas holidays and while some children returned to class, others failed to turn up.

Ayamba Ita, chief of Eyumojock commune in south-western Cameroon, told DW that many children and their parents had fled to Nigeria. Others might have heeded the call by the separatists to boycott the schools. Ita said he hoped that a dialogue between the government and the separatists would help solve the crisis. "When I hear dialogue," he said, "I feel confident that it will give me an opportunity to have my children who are across the border as refugees for a safe return."

Moki Kindzeka contributed to this report.

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