Yaoundé — Threats by separatist groups to disrupt games and their warning to teams not to travel to the matches have raised fears over the safety of players and other personnel as the African Nations Championships (CHAN) kick off in Cameroon on Sunday.
There is also the threat by the Islamist Boko Haram terror group launching threats from neighbouring Nigeria.
Hosts Cameroon are scheduled to open the tournament with a fixture against Zimbabwe at Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium in the capital, Yaoundé, on Saturday.
The sixth edition of the biennial tournament is to run until February 7. It was initially scheduled for last April but postponed because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreaks.
Nonetheless, there are safety concerns because of the armed groups agitating for the independence of English-speaking regions and the Boko Haram.
Over 3 000 people have been killed with estimated 40, 000 others displaced.
Some matches are scheduled for Limbe in the southwest of Cameroon where the conflict that began in 2016 is escalating.
Last Wednesday, four army officers and a senior government official were killed when militants attacked a military convoy in the north-west.
Boko Haram continues to pose a threat to civilians in the northern region.
Last Friday, a suspected suicide bomber killed at least 13 civilians, including eight children, in the local village of Mogozo.
The Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (GCR2P) warned authorities against taking the militants' threat to disrupt matches lightly.
"The tournament (CHAN) is adding unnecessary risks to an already deteriorating security situation in the Anglophone regions," Juliette Paauwe, GCR2P senior research analyst, said.
The Cameroon Football Federation (FECAFOOT) is adamant the tournament will continue.
"People are anxiously waiting for the tournament to begin," Thomas Ndive Mulungo, FECAFOOT president for the south-west region, said.
CHAN is exclusively for players participating in their respective domestic leagues.
Militants have previously targeted competitions by the Confederation of African Football (CAF).
At the Africa Cup of Nations 2010 in Angola, a separatist group ambushed the Togo team bus in Cabinda and killed three personnel comprising the driver, assistant coach and the press officer.