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Aid agencies urge halt to civilian attacks in Cameroon’s conflict

Two international aid agencies on Wednesday called on Cameroon’s army and separatist fighters to halt attacks on civilians in a secessionist conflict in the country’s anglophone regions.

Fighting between the army and separatist rebels demanding autonomy for English-speaking Cameroon — and reprisal attacks on civilians — have left more than 3,000 dead in two western regions since 2017.

Rights groups have accused both the army and the rebels of abuses and atrocities in a conflict that has closed schools and clinics and forced 700,000 people to flee their homes in the anglophone regions.

In a joint statement, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) called for both sides to uphold international human rights and cease all attacks on civilians.

“The crisis destabilising the English speaking parts of Cameroon has taken a worrying turn, with an increasing number of reports of targeted attacks against civilians,” they said.

“Survivors have shared testimonies of gruesome attacks that have left children orphaned, people homeless, and limited or cut off access to public facilities such as hospitals and schools.”

Human Rights Watch last month accused the armed forces in taking part in the killing of 21 civilians, including at least 13 children, in Ngarbuh, a district of Ntumbo village.

The army denied the accusations, saying the deaths were an unfortunate accident after fuel supplies exploded into flames during a gun battle with separatists.

The United Nations has called for an independent and impartial inquiry into the massacre.

Aid agencies have also said they have been caught up in the conflict, facing threats and violence from both sides as they struggle to deliver help to those made vulnerable by the fighting.

“This crisis needs more attention,” said Paul Taylor, IRC Regional Vice President for West Africa.

“Aid agencies need additional resources to meet the needs of those displaced by this crisis, and all parties need to ensure that aid agencies are able to access those who are in desperate need of basic services.”

English-speakers account for nearly a fifth of Cameroon’s population of 24 million, who are majority French-speaking.

Most of this minority live in two western regions called the Northwest and Southwest, which were once part of British colonies in West Africa.

Decades of grievances at perceived discrimination brewed into a declaration of independence in October 2017, which was followed by a government crackdown and a separatist insurgency.

The declaration has not been recognised internationally and President Paul Biya, in power for 37 of his 87 years, has refused demands to return to a federal system.

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