Authorities in western English-speaking Cameroon have called for calm after a police officer killed a five-year-old girl and was lynched by a mob.
The incident took place in Buea, a hotspot town in an area where English-speaking separatists and government forces from the predominantly French nation are locked in a bitter conflict that has lasted for four years.
“We urge the public to be calm. It is a sad and unfortunate incident, ”the governor of the South West region, Bernard Okalia Bilai, told the public television channel CRTV.
Blaise Chamango, head of a local campaign group called Human Is Right, said a woman driving children to school was ordered by police to stop at a checkpoint.
“The driver did not obey. A gendarme opened fire and a schoolgirl was fatally injured, ”he said. “People responded by lynching the gendarme. More than 500 people came out and marched with the body [of the girl] at the governor’s office. He tried to calm people down by promising to punish ”those responsible.
Images supposed to show the deceased girl, the gendarme and the crowd circulated on social networks but could not be authenticated.
Hundreds of people took to the streets to protest, some waving tree branches as a sign of peace, while others waved 500-franc notes (worth about $ 0.88), which , according to them, corresponded to the amount that the parents of the girl had refused to pay before the gendarme opened fire. .
“It didn’t happen just because they refused to pay a bribe. It’s too much, ”said one protester, who said the incident was part of a pattern of heavily militarized security forces harassing local residents.
The southwest region and the neighboring region of the northwest are home to English speakers who make up about a fifth of Cameroon’s 22 million people. A decades-long campaign by activists to address perceived discrimination at the hands of the Francophone majority turned into a declaration of independence on October 1, 2017.
Attacks on security forces by armed separatists have met with repression, plunging the two regions into a spiral of violence that has left more than 3,500 dead and forced around 700,000 people to flee their homes.
Last month alone, 15 soldiers were killed in two attacks within five days, while four suspected separatists were sentenced to death for the murder of seven schoolchildren last year.
The presence of English-speaking regions dates back to colonial times. The former German possession of Cameroon was shared after World War I between Britain and France. In 1961, part of the British territory, the Southern Cameroons, joined Cameroon after its independence from France. Anglophones have long resented perceived inequality, especially in education and the law.