Cameroon: U.S. Halting Some Military Assistance Over Rights Concerns

Aircrafts donated by America at the Yaounde military air base in Cameroon, May 11 2018

The United States has announced it is cutting some security assistance to Cameroon following allegations of human rights violations allegedly committed by the Cameroonian military.

The U.S. decision comes after videos, documented by Amnesty International and that went viral last year, showed Cameroonian security forces shooting and killing civilians, including women with small children strapped to their backs.

Colonel Didier Badjeck, a Cameroonian military spokesperson, criticized the Amnesty report, saying his country's military is professional.

Cameroon is a key U.S. security partner. Three-hundred U.S. troops are based in the northern town of Garoua to train and assist the Cameroonian military, including in its fight against extremism in its far northern region.

Officials in Yaounde have not commented on the U.S. move. Coinciding with the decision was a charity effort at a school in Fotokol, on Cameroon's northern border with Nigeria. At the school, students were receiving school equipment and medication from the Rapid Intervention Battalion, an elite corps of the Cameroon army.

Teacher welcomes troops

Teacher Epoum Mahaman says the move was encouraging to the children, who have suffered attacks by militant group Boko Haram — such as the burning of schools, kidnapping of teachers and killing of some of their parents and relatives.

He said, "We now have rulers and exercise books that we can give to the kids. We have displaced children who do not have books and who have lots of difficulties. Before now, some teachers were the ones helping to provide books to some. These gifts will encourage us and them to work."

Military colonel Alain Mvogo says the troops were handing out the gifts because the military not only fights wars but also reconciles people and strives for peace.

"Wars are not only won with military might,” Mvogo said. “Now that we are at the stabilization phase, we think it is very necessary to meet the center of gravity, which is the population."

Fotokol is one of the areas cited last year in the Amnesty report.

Boko Haram blamed

Amnesty said numerous human rights abuses were committed by Cameroon's military in its crackdown on Boko Haram, including the killing of dozens of civilians, torture, and arbitrary mass arrests.

The Nigeria-based Islamist terrorist group has been recruiting fighters in Cameroon, using them as spies and informants in areas it does not know.

Boko Haram, whose name in the Hausa language roughly translates to "Western education is a sin," has attacked mosques and churches on Cameroon's northern border with Nigeria, in addition to schools.

Military behind suffering

Pascal Tantoh is a 31-year-old teacher who fled the fighting between the military and separatist forces in the English-speaking northwest region. He said the U.S. decision to scale back security assistance indicates that America is finally realizing what Cameroon has suffered.

"I told myself that, oh, this is the right time. Let other nations follow suit,” Tantoh said. “The people have been suffering a lot because of the barbaric action of the military, and we want to believe that the military proves their strength because of this support from foreign bodies. I pray that other nations should follow if that is the ultimate goal for peace to return to our nation. It is very clear, a military solution cannot help the situation that we are going through. I just pray that even the state of Israel, let them come in. We are very very happy and we say kudus to [U.S. President] Donald Trump."

Businessman Victor Enow said he was targeted by Boko Haram terrorists in the northern town of Mora while returning from a business trip to Nigeria. He says the United States should have ensured peace returned to Cameroon before considering if it could withdraw its support.

"If America just leaves like that, what will happen to those citizens who are being killed every day?” Enow said. “I think they should first of all look at those citizens who are crying day in day out asking them {America} to come to their aid and try to see how they can stop the killing before withdrawing the aid that they give to Cameroon."
Relations remain good

Peter Henry Barlerin, U.S. Ambassador to Cameroon, met with Cameroon's government spokesperson Rene Emmanuel Sadi after the cut was announced. Barlerin said despite the announced reduction in military aid, relations between the two countries remain good.

"We are not going to stop security cooperation with Cameroon,” Barlerin said. ”We have our differences, Cameroon is a sovereign country and the United States is a sovereign country. Relations between Cameroon and the United states are excellent and long-standing and we aim to continue that relationship."

Besides the U.S., other countries that help Cameroon militarily, and which Cameroon counts on, include Israel, France, Germany and China.

Human rights groups have reported that Cameroonian security forces have targeted civilians in the far north and in the country's unstable southwest and northwest regions, where the military is battling English-speaking separatists fighting to create a breakaway nation called Ambazonia.

See What Everyone is Watching

More From: VOA

Don't Miss

AllAfrica publishes around 600 reports a day from more than 150 news organizations and over 500 other institutions and individuals, representing a diversity of positions on every topic. We publish news and views ranging from vigorous opponents of governments to government publications and spokespersons. Publishers named above each report are responsible for their own content, which AllAfrica does not have the legal right to edit or correct.

Articles and commentaries that identify allAfrica.com as the publisher are produced or commissioned by AllAfrica. To address comments or complaints, please Contact us.