NW, SW: Humanitarian organisations workers bear brunt as armed conflict rages on


As the crisis rocking the North West and South West regions, which has escalated into an armed conflict, rages on, workers of humanitarian organisations have been bearing the brunt as they are being persecuted by the government for allegedly providing humanitarian assistance to needy persons including separatist fighters.

The ambulances and vehicles of humanitarian organisations on their way to render services to distressed persons have often come under attack by either the military or separatist fighters themselves. Some humanitarian workers have lost their lives in such attacks.

The separatist fighters, on their part, have been kidnapping humanitarian workers, savaging beating them and even killing some, accusing them of spying for the government.

Meanwhile, the government, through the military, has stepped up its crackdown on all those suspected to be activists or sympathisers to the Anglophone cause, inducing humanitarian workers. In this light, security operatives have been indiscriminately arresting many. Sources say the arrested persons are being detained under deplorable and inhuman conditions. Some have reported died in detention.

This has caused many of them to flee into hiding and the whereabouts of many is not known.

A case of a humanitarian worker who has suffered in the hands of the military is Kayeh Noris Kawas, who was working with a humanitarian organisation, Kenkō Foundation, a humanitarian organisation that provides health services to underprivileged individuals and deprived communities.

In November 2017, Kayeh Noris, alongside his three other colleagues were accused by the government of providing support to separatist fighters because the organisation he worked for, Kenkō Foundation, continued to provide emergency medical supplies and health services to communities affected by the conflict as well as injured separatist fighters.

In January 2018, Kayeh Noris Kawas, Felix Enongene and Beltus Atem successfully fled after soldiers arrested and tortured them for providing humanitarian support to separatist fighters who were wounded after a battle with soldiers in Malende, Muyuka subdivision, Fako division of the South West region. One of their colleagues, James Agbor, was captured and tortured to death.

However, Kayeh Noris later travelled to Germany where he undertook studies. Nonetheless, he was on Monday December 14, 2020 arrested at the Douala International Airport as he returned home to visit his sick mother. He was tortured and detained in Douala under conditions which were described as inhuman.

Speaking about the incident, Ray C. Nji, the Executive Director of Kenkō Foundation and former employer of Kayeh Noris, told The Sun newspaper that, “I’m deeply saddened by the fact that security forces continue to persecute and torture young Anglophones who have worked in humanitarian organisations”.

“Arresting and torturing Noris does not contribute in the resolution of the ongoing Anglophone conflict. Instead, it creates an atmosphere of mistrust and animosity,” he added.

However, we gathered Kayeh escaped from detention under conditions that remain unclear, as he was about being transferred to the Kondengui maximum security prison in Yaounde. His whereabouts is currently unknown, while security and defence forces have launched a manhunt for him.

If arrested, Kayeh Noris Kawas will be tried in a military tribunal under the anti-terrorism law, whose maximum punishment is the death sentence. That is if he is not killed outright like many others who have been victims of extrajudicial killings.

Origin of Anglophone crisis

It should be recalled that the Anglophone crisis, something that pundits say had been brewing for several years, boiled over in 2016, when Common Law Lawyers in the North West and South West regions went on strike. They were demanding for the return of the federal system of government, redeployment of Civil Law Magistrates back to Civil Law Courts in French Cameroon, among other grievances. Not long after, teachers in the North West and South West regions also went on strike, demanding for the redress of several issues concerning the English system of education.

Things, however, got worst when Anglophones in both regions, who had been fed up with the unfavourable political and economic situation of the country, the use of French as the dominant and official language, and the marginalisation of the Anglophones, joined the strike.

The crisis later degenerated into an armed conflict when some Anglophones picked up arms to fight for independence of the Anglophone regions.

The armed conflict has caused the deaths of thousands and thousands more internally displaced with some living in bushes while several other thousands have fled to neighbouring Nigeria, where they are living as refugees.

Separatist leader, Sissiku Ayuk Tabe, and nine others, who were arrested in Nigeria and later extradited to Cameroon, are currently at the Kondengui maximum security prison in Yaounde, where they are serving life sentences.

While the Anglophone crisis continues to escalate, international organisations and other western powers have called on the government to address the root cause through dialogue.

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