Disabled people in Cameroon are protesting the deepening crisis in the country's English-speaking regions after clashes between government forces and armed separatists killed several handicapped people. A number of people caught up in the fighting have been made disabled as well. Their protests in towns across Cameroon Monday comes after a bloody weekend, in which at least 25 armed men and several troops were killed.
Fifty-four-year-old Martin Ndende was among dozens of disabled Cameroonians protesting near the Ministry of Defense Monday against the killing of handicapped people.
Ndende, who has had a hearing impairment for 35 years, went to teach philosophy in the English-speaking northwestern town of Kom in September 2017.
He was there for barely a month when armed separatists attacked and torched his school for refusing to close its doors.
Ndende says he and several teachers were abducted and tied to a tree. It was a week before Cameroon’s military came to the rescue, too late to save his broken right hand, which had to be amputated.
Ndende says he is an unfortunate victim of the offensive things armed gangs do to people in the English-speaking regions of Cameroon. He simply went to educate children in the restive areas, he says, because true patriots and loving parents would never accept to compromise the education of their children. Even in war-torn countries, children are protected and allowed their right to education, says Ndende.
Christopher Ayombe is leader of Cameroon’s Coalition of People Living with Disabilities. He organized the protests in towns in the restive regions and Yaounde to urge both the military and separatists to stop killing civilians, especially the handicapped.
"We are going to educate the military services how to engage persons with disabilities in crisis time. We have persons with disabilities who do not hear and they were shot down based on the fact that they gave instructions and they did not hear. So, in such situations, how do you identify someone who do[es] not hear? How do you identify somebody who cannot see?" asked Ayombe.
Cameroon’s military says over the weekend it killed 20 terrorists in Kom, including a separatist general known as “Amigo.”
Ayombe says a blind civilian was killed during the clashes in Kom because nobody helped him escape the shooting.
At least 12 disabled people have disappeared during the two-year conflict and are feared dead, says Ayombe.
Spokesman for Cameroon’s military Colonel Didier Badjeck says troops do their best to avoid civilian casualties.
He says Cameroon’s defense minister always reminds his military on the need to remain professional even in difficult moments and does not hesitate to punish any soldier found to have abused the rights of citizens. While the military respects the rights of all citizens, says Badjeck, armed terrorists - who often take drugs - attack and kill civilians.
Badjeck did not give specific examples of troops punished for abuses.
Cameroon’s military says more than 1,200 people have been killed in the past year of fighting between security and separatists, while hundreds have been abducted.
Last weekend, armed men abducted 16 Roman Catholic nuns in the northwestern town of Kumbo. They were set free unharmed a day later.
Earlier this month, suspected separatists kidnapped 79 students and three staff from a school in the northwest. All were released within days.
Rights groups accuse both the Cameroon military and separatists fighting for an independent English-speaking state of using excessive force.
Nearly a quarter-million more people have fled the ongoing violence.