As the Anglophone uprising in Cameroon enters its fourth year, the Caritas Director, Father Paul Njokikang, has been arrested. His detention has been condemned by Lord Alton as a further assault on moderate voices within Anglophone civil society.
In May, Father Paul testified at the United Nations about the deteriorating situation in the mainly English-speaking North West and South West regions of Cameroon. Conflict is escalating between Anglophone Cameroonians, who make up a fifth of the country's twenty-four million population, and the Francophone government of President Paul Biya. More than 300 Anglophone activists remain in prison, some serving life sentences for calling for greater autonomy or independence for their region.
The UN estimates that 530,000 people, more than 10% of the Anglophone population, have been forced from their homes in the violence. More than 30,000 have fled to neighbouring Nigeria, while as many as 3,000 are believed to have been killed. Impartial human rights organisations have condemned the disproportionate force used by the Cameroon armed forces against peaceful unarmed civilians.
The crackdown has driven some Anglophones to support secession from Cameroon, creating an independent nation called Ambazonia. Extremists, called Amba Boys, have demanded school closures and have intimidated civilians who resist their call for strikes. Hospitals, schools and businesses have been burned down. As a result, hundreds of thousands of children have been unable to attend schools for years.
Father Paul told the UN that the pro-independence fighters have made life intolerable for civilians, while humanitarian aid agencies are unable to reach those in need. He described kidnapping and devastation by the Amba Boys, as well as ferocious revenge attacks by the Cameroonian armed forces.
"A military solution has never been a solution," he told UN delegates. "Dialogue is the solution." He called on the UN to demand a ceasefire and genuine negotiations, including demilitarising the region, and scaling up humanitarian assistance. "We are sandwiched between the security forces and the Amba Boys," he explained. However, despite Father Paul's moderate stance, he was arrested after Mass on Sunday.
President Paul Biya's government recently held a national dialogue conference, but many English-speaking activists were excluded. They have denounced the process as a sham, aimed at pacifying the international community, rather than addressing long-standing Anglophone grievances. The uprising began with peaceful demonstrations when the Francophone government forced French-speaking teachers and judges on schools and courts in the Anglophone region.
Lord Alton commented: "Father Paul represents a moderate Anglophone voice in an increasingly polarised conflict. The international community must demand his unconditional release. There can be no constructive dialogue while the Biya regime undermines the work of impartial charities. The UK should use its influence at the UN and in the Commonwealth to press the Cameroon authorities to hold genuine and inclusive negotiations."
See today's update: Cameroon: Caritas director freed - ICN exclusive www.indcatholicnews.com/news/38137
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