The scene is chilling. A video circulating on social media shows men in military fatigue violently attacking a civilian. The hands of the man are tied to his back, and he is beaten mercilessly, as people believed to be his wife and children look on, helplessly.
There is a belief that the torturers belong to the Rapid Intervention Battalion, BIR, Cameroun’s elite force that was recently dispatched to the former UN Trust Territory of British Southern Cameroons, where a pro-independence insurgency, now in its 6th year, has been fighting to restore the independence of the territory and rename it Ambazonia.
The recent incident reportedly happened in Djottin in Bui Division of the North West region and highlights a growing concern that civilians could pay a heavy price for BIR’s presence.
Last week, the elite force stormed Mbam, a village in Oku that had hitherto stayed relatively peaceful. They killed one civilian and burnt over a dozen houses.
“It was very early in the morning. I had just returned from an early-morning chore. Then soldiers broke open the backdoor to my house,” recounts one villager who wouldn’t be named for security purposes.
“They started beating me and asking me to hand “the gun” to them.”
Of course, the man didn’t have a gun. He said the soldiers ransacked his house and made away with what money they saw.
“They burnt my motorbike and left, promising that when they return, it will be a more deadly and destructive spectacle.”
The Special Forces were deployed to the restive regions which constitute the former UN Trust Territory of British Southern Cameroons a month ago.
“I have the honour to inform you, for necessary diligence, that the President of the Republic has given his very high agreement for the deployment of a detachment of special forces in the theatres of operations of the second and fifth joint military (RMIA 2 and RMIA 5),” reads a statement sent by the Minister of State, Secretary General at the Presidency of the Republic, Ferdinand Ngoh Ngoh to Defense Minister, Joseph Beti Assomo.
The said force is notorious for rights violations, with Mr. Beti Assomo admitting as much recently when he promised to punish soldiers violating human rights.
Rights activist with the Cameroon Civil Society group, Etienne Akenfor has cast doubt on the government’s seriousness in committing to calling defaulting soldiers to book.
“The situation keeps getting worse when new military generals are brought in. So, I think the way out of this situation is to send the army [military] back to the barracks. If there were a cease-fire, you would not have troops in the field committing atrocities,” he said.
Cameroon has been experiencing a conflict in the former UN Trust Territory of British Southern Cameroons for nearly six years. It began when teachers and lawyers protested the imposition of French in the two regions’ British-based school systems and common law courts, which stem from when the people were ruled by the United Kingdom.
The rest of Cameroon had been ruled by France, and about 80 per cent of the population is French-speaking. English speakers have long complained about discrimination and marginalization by the central government.
The 2016 protests were met with violence by Cameroon’s military, sparking a pro-independence revolt.
According to the International Crisis Group, at least 6,000 people have been killed in six years of fighting. Over a million others have been forced to flee from their homes and at least 70,000 have sought refuge in Nigeria.