Cameroon’s government has vowed to eradicate secessionist militants in the country’s western region after four soldiers and two policemen were shot and killed on November 29, 2017.
The soldiers were ambushed whilst in a military convoy near the town of Mamfe, whilst the policemen were killed in the nearby town of Eyoumojock.
The armed wing of the Ambazonia Governing Council, the secessionist Ambazonia Defence Forces, claimed responsibility for the attacks.
Ambazonia is the name given to the homeland that Anglophone separatists hope to create within western Cameroon, a majority French-speaking nation.
Activists refer to the area as “Southern Cameroon” in a historical nod to the British administration of the territory following World War I, which unified it with French-speaking Cameroon in 1961.
An initial demand for a return of the pre-1971 federal system of government and greater regional autonomy began last year with civil society-led demonstrations.
A heavy-handed response by government security forces, however, has led to more support for what was originally a fringe secessionist movement.
Since last month, 10 security personnel have been killed in shootings.
Defence Minister Joseph Beti Assomo said that immediate measures would be taken to eradicate the “inconvenient situation”.
State radio announced that the President had “declared war” on the secessionist terrorists.
A more serious conflict could drive more refugees into neighbouring Nigeria, where the government says some militants are hiding.
It says it has arrested 22 armed activists so far, some whilst they were attempting to cross the Nigerian border.
Residents in the Manyu region, where the ambush occurred, were ordered to leave their homes on December 1, 2017 or risk being deemed to be accomplices of separatist violence.
Security forces have carried out mass arrests and shot several civilian demonstrators, with 17 killed and 50 wounded on October 1, 2017 as they raised the blue and white flag of the so-called Republic of Ambazonia in Manyu.
Army raids followed, with the military crackdown causing 20,000 people to flee into Nigeria’s Cross River State.
A civil disobedience campaign includes a shutdown of all businesses and schools, which is violently enforced.
Night-time curfews, raids and roadblocks have been introduced and farm tools and traditional single-shot hunting rifles have been confiscated and banned.
The issue of human rights violations and regional underdevelopment has been raised by Anglophone parliamentarians, but the situation escalated on November 23, 2017 when the main opposition party threatened to stop business in parliament until the `Anglophone crisis’ was debated, accompanied by the chant “How many people will Paul Biya kill?”
The United Nations has supported calls for dialogue, but neither side seems willing to participate.
Government emissaries from the ruling CPDM party, who come from the English-speaking regions, had been sent to broker talks but were met with hostility.
Leader of the Ambazonia Defence Forces, Lucas Cho Ayaba, say that violence and insurgency is a legitimate response to the Cameroonian security forces’ brutality.
Akwanga Ebenezer has promoted secession since the 1990s and leads the Southern Cameroons Defence Forces from exile in the US.
He argues that dialogue is no longer an option and criticises the more cautious approach of the Southern Cameroons Ambazonia Consortium United Front, a coalition of opposition groups who have not publicly supported armed action.
Their leader, Julius Sessekou Ayuk Tabe, says that all options are available in the restoration of Ambazonia.
In a statement to IRIN, Ayaba said: "They have shot and killed hundreds of unarmed civilians on the streets and in their homes, maimed hundreds, raped ladies on university campuses, buried some in mass graves, and abducted thousands."
Communications Minister Issa Tchiroma said: "How can we maintain dialogue with an interlocutor whose only ideology is the partition of a state that is legitimate and recognized as such by all international bodies?"