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Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC)

An armed insurgency started in the English-speaking regions in Cameroon in October 2017, after separatists declared the independence of a nation they called "Ambazonia" complaining minority anglophones were being systematically marginalized in the largely French-speaking country. The crisis escalated on October 1, 2017, when militant secessionist groups symbolically proclaimed independence from the English-speaking state of Ambazonia. Cameroon President Paul Biya declared war against the separatists in November 2017, calling them terrorists.

The government said in early 2019 more than 1,200 people had been killed in the fighting but has dismissed the thought of giving up any sovereignty. By mid-2019 the crisis had killed more than 2,000 people in Cameroon.

Cameroon’s military denies abuses against civilians in battling the rebels and accuses the separatists of committing atrocities. Rights groups say both the military and separatists are guilty of brutalities in the three-year conflict, with noncombatants bearing the brunt of the violence. But authorities admit thousands of young Cameroonians have become separatists.

In December 2018, Cameroon created the committee to reintegrate Boko Haram terrorists and rebel fighters and who agreed to disarm. By march 2019, Cameroon said three months after creating a commission to reintegrate separatist fighters who agree to disarm, only 20 rebels have surrendered. Separatists fear the commission may be a trap by the military to arrest and punish them.

The Swiss ambassador to Cameroon, Pietro Lazzeri, said 20 July 2019 that his country is mediating the political crisis that has plagued Cameroon’s English-speaking northwest and southwest regions since 2016. spoke in Yaounde about attempting reconciliation after more than 20 people were killed within two days of fighting in the crisis-stricken regions. He said Switzerland is helping the government of Cameroon negotiate with rebels to end the separatist crisis.

Cameroon's parliament granted "special status" to two English-speaking regions to try to calm separatist violence that has killed 2,000 people, but the separatists said only independence would satisfy them. The law, passed on 20 December 2019 in a special session of parliament, said the Anglophone Northwest and Southwest regions would "benefit from a special status founded on their linguistic particularity and historic heritage". The legislation mentioned schools and the judiciary system as part of the special status - a delayed response to protests in 2016 by teachers and lawyers.

The reforms were recommended at the end of national talks organised by Biya in October to chart a way out of the conflict. But separatists boycotted that dialogue, saying they would negotiate only if the government released all the political prisoners and withdrew the military from the Northwest and Southwest. "We want independence and nothing else," said Ivo Tapang, a spokesman for 13 armed groups called the Contender Forces of Ambazonia. He said the special status made no difference as no law passed in the Cameroonian parliament should be imposed in Ambazonia.

The roots of Cameroonian English speakers’ grievances go back a century to the League of Nations' decision to split the former German colony of Kamerun between the allied French and British victors at the end of the first world war.

Ambazonia - Path to War

Ambazonia What started as a strike by anglophone lawyers and teachers in November 2016 degenerated as it was overtaken by separatist groups demanding full independence for the country’s anglophone minority. Violence escalated amid a government crackdown. By February 2018 more than two dozen policemen, gendarmes and soldiers had lost their lives amid the unrest in the anglophone regions, according to Cameroon’s defense minister, Joseph Beti Assomo. He stated that hundreds of the separatists had either been killed or arrested.

Since the secessionists took up arm, attacks by their fighters and a crackdown by the authorities led to the death of at least 500 civilians as well as more than 200 members of the security forces, according to the International Crisis Group (ICG), as of December 2018.

Renewed fighting killed 69 people in English-speaking regions of Cameroon, where armed separatists have ordered people to stay inside their homes as the country prepared to celebrate its national youth day. February 11 coincides with the 1961 plebiscite, which separatists identify as the day their English-speaking territory was handed to the French-speaking majority. The government said that as of 11 February 2019 at least six military, 47 armed separatists and 16 civilians had been killed. The separatists sais on social media they killed more troops than the government was reporting.

Cameroon President Paul Biya said 01 January 2018 he will destroy all terrorists whom he said were fighting to separate his country or using it as a hiding place for armed attacks on neighboring states. In a message, Biya reiterated he was open for dialogue with the disgruntled English speaking minority in the bilingual country but that his military would deal with armed separatists fighting for the independence of the English speaking regions.

At least 500 civilians in the English-speaking regions of Cameroon are detained in overcrowded facilities while scores wounded have fled hospitals for fear of arrest. Other protestors have reportedly been forced to pay US$60 bribes (R800) to be released from detention.

Ilaria Allegrozzi, Amnesty International's regional executive, said the mass arrest of protestors, most who protested peacefully, was not only a violation of human rights but was also likely to be counter-productive. "The Cameroonian authorities should release anyone detained only for exercising their right to peaceful protest." The fear of arrest and large-scale deployment of security forces has led to wounded protestors fleeing hospitals fearing arrest. It is reported in at least one hospital, security forces have arrested patients.

Prime Minister Head of Government, Philemon Yang led a delegation of North West elite to the region with a message of peace and hope from the Head of State, President Paul Biya. The delegation of elite was on the field since October 15, 2017 to commune, consult and share President Biya's message which stresses peace, reason and the need for things to quickly return to normalcy.

The long-simmering crisis in Cameroon’s English-speaking regions took a dangerous turn with small explosions targeting local security officials, as ongoing protests became increasingly vociferous. Renewed mass protests broke out on 22 September 20172 in major towns and villages across the north west and south west. The aggrieved population took to the streets with placards, whistles and flags of Ambazonia.

On 01 October 2017, the anniversary of the official reunification of the anglophone and francophone parts of Cameroon, the anglophone separatists made a symbolic proclamation of independence for Ambazonia, the name of the state they want to create. "We are no longer slaves of Cameroon," said Sisiku Ayuk, who describes himself as the "president" of Ambazonia. "Today we affirm the autonomy of our heritage and our territory," he said.

Police patrolled empty streets in Cameroon's restive anglophone belt as a separatist group made a symbolic proclamation of independence on 01 October 2017, a day after a young man was shot dead by security forces. In Buea, the main city in the English-speaking southwest, the streets were mostly deserted as security forces patrolled the streets including the area where the separatists were expected to gather. The anglophone minority has long complained about disparities in the distribution of Cameroon's oil wealth.

Cameroonian authorities on 05 October 2017 rejected a report by a human rights group which said at least 100 people were killed by government forces during the past weekend's protests. Initial reports stated 17 people had been killed. On 09 October 2017 Cameroon’s military said that it had stopped hundreds of Nigerian fighters attempting to enter its territory to join separatist groups in English speaking regions that are demanding for independence. The military intensified arrests of activists despite calls from the United Nations and the international community. Most recently Catholic bishops denounced "barbarism" and "irresponsible use" of force against demonstrators in Cameroon's English-speaking regions.

At least 6 armed separatists and a police official were killed and several people wounded in the southwestern Cameroon English speaking town of Mamfe during an attack on a military post on December 2017. The attack occurred after a special envoy from Nigeria assured Cameroon that they want to work jointly to reduce terrorism on their frontiers. Cameroon had complained that armed separatists were using Nigerian territory as a training ground.

Cameroon communication minister and government spokesman Issa Tchiroma said hundreds of youths armed with guns, machetes and spears attacked Cameroon's police unit in the English speaking south western town of Mamfe Thursday night. Tchiroma said a policeman was killed and another wounded while dozens of the attackers incurred severe injuries. "Five terrorists were shot dead by the defense forces who retaliated to an attack led by nearly 200 attackers against the Mamfe gendarmes (police) barracks," said Tchiroma.

It was the third such attack in Mamfe and the neighboring town of Eyumojock that the government says have killed at least seven soldiers and policemen and wounded several more. Residents report that at least 16 military men have been killed there.

Julius Sisiku Ayuk Tabe, president of the self-declared "Republic of Ambazonia", was arrested in neighbouring Nigeria and extradited to Cameroon in January this year along with 46 others. Separatist leaderAyuk Tabe went on trial on December 6 on charges of "terrorism" and "secession". Cameroon President Paul Biya on 13 December 2018 called a halt to the prosecution of 289 separatists from the West African country's western English-speaking regions, his office said. Biya "has decided on... the halt of cases pending in military courts against a certain number of people arrested for offences committed during the crisis in the (anglophone) Northwest and Southwest" regions, a statement said, adding that the measure concerned "289 detainees".

Ambazonia - Background

The Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC) is illegal in Cameroon as it is a secessionist organisation. Long-time President Paul Biya completely ruled out independence, and also strongly opposed the return to a federal structure, which existed in Cameroon from the time it gained independence in 1961 until 1984, when Biya abolished the federal system for a unified Republic of Cameroon.

The 4 million English speaking Cameroonians make up 20 percent of Cameroon's population of 23 million. They have long complained that they are treated like second-class citizens by the predominantly French speaking government in Yaounde. The root of the grievances date back to the end of World War One when the League of Nations decided to split Kamerun, a former German colony, between the allied French and British powers.

In 1999, the Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC) declared, mostly symbolically, an independent Republic of Ambazonia, citing a 1995 non-binding referendum on independence in which separatists won out with 99%, and in 2006, after the Bakassi cession, the Southern Cameroons Peoples Organization (SCAPO) declared a Republic of Ambazania (note slight difference in spelling), which included Bakassi as well.

Most anglophone campaigners want the country to resume a federalist system -- an approach that followed the 1961 unification but was later scrapped in favour of a centralised government run from the capital Yaounde. A hardline minority is calling for secession.

Ambazonia regards itself as a sovereign and the proposal for an Ambazonian-Cameroon confederacy is not an issue for its consideration. Ambazonia is a state with internationally recognized boundaries (fixed by the League of Nations, inherited by the United Nations and which remains so today). In 1958 Ambazonia achieved self-government, then in 1959 the UN passed a resolution severing it from Nigeria, and in October 1960, an independent Constitution was promulgated for the territory. French Cameroon became independent, as the Republic of Cameroon, on 1 January 1960, under the presidency of Ahmadou Ahidjo. Later that year Nigeria gained its independence from Britain and became a Federal Republic. The British-controlled southern Cameroons was then separated from Nigeria and was due to achieve full independence on 01 October 1961. In the British Cameroons, a UN-sponsored plebiscite was held in February 1961. Cameroun was forced to drop the politics of claiming that Ambazonia is part of a single Cameroonian nation. According to Cameroon's statement of claim, the Ambazonian people gave it that mandate through the United Nations plebiscite of February 1961.

The northern region voted to merge with Nigeria (becoming the province of Sadauna), while the south voted for a union with the Republic of Cameroon (which took place on 1 October 1961). Ahmadou Ahidjo assumed the presidency of the new Federal Republic of Cameroon. In recent years the English-speaking inhabitants of the former British provinces have sought autonomy or a return to federal government. In the 1990s, tensions increased between Cameroon and Nigeria over competing claims to the oil-rich Bakassi peninsula in the Gulf of Guinea.

The Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC) is a group supporting independence for anglophone provinces. The Southern Cameroons National Council was established in 1992 as a result of disagreements within the SDF. There are two factions of the SCNC, the genuine one and one that is being managed by the state to discredit the genuine one. The Southern Cameroonians had independence from 1954 until 1961. However, since 1961, there had been no dialogue between the government and the SCNC. It was also stated that in March 1999 President Biya proposed a referendum to solve the plight of Southern Cameroonians. However this has yet to be conducted.

The Government considers the SCNC an illegal organisation because it advocates secession, which the law prohibits. The security forces continue to arrest and detain leaders, members, and supporters of the SCNC. In 2008, for example, the security forces reportedly arrested approximately forty leaders, members, and supporters of the SCNC to prevent them from participating in unauthorised political meetings. However, in accordance with the newly instituted penal code, officials released, pending trial, individuals who were detained for participating in illegal SCNC gatherings. The police have also reportedly put the houses of SCNC officials and activists under surveillance, searched the houses of some SCNC leaders, and disrupted SCNC meetings in private residences. In addition, the authorities have refused to grant the SCNC permission to hold rallies and meetings.

Reports indicate that SCNC members found to be participating in group meetings have been arrested and detained. In May 2007 the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) advised that an indiviudal could be served with a court summons, known in Cameroon as a convocation, if found to be carrying a SCNC membership card. The DFAT report also states that it is likely, though not confirmed, that the Cameroon authorities maintain a list of individuals wanted for arrest due to their SCNC membership as opposed to their position within the SCNC.

There has been no difference in treatment of Anglophones by the government since President Ahidjo was in power. Anglophones are leaving the country because of the harsh treatment that they receive. Anglophones suffer marginalisation, economic blockage (75 percent of resources come from the Anglophone province) and discrimination. The source stated that intellectual Anglophones have been “bought over” by the Francophones.

According to the SCNC, freedom of movement is a problem for SCNC members because they fear for their lives and are constantly being watched by government authorities. Every day there is a fear of being arrested. Government forces have been known to approach the wives of the members of the SCNC and offer them money in exchange for details about their husband’s activities. The SCNC is “the leading vehicle for expression of secessionist sentiment in the former British Cameroons region. A 2009 UK Home Office operational guidance note stated that “the SCNC advocates complete secession or full independence of the two southern Anglophone provinces from the Francophone majority”.

The USDOS Reports on Human Rights Practices 2008 – Cameroon reports that SCNC is illegal and that individuals found to be participating in SCNC meetings have been arrested. The report states that “during the year security forces preemptively arrested approximately 40 leaders, members, and supporters of the SCNC to prevent them from participating in unauthorized political meetings”.

Jacques Franquin, a representative of United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Cameroon stated in 2004 that although in the past particular groups have suffered persecution by state authorities within the country, this is no longer the case. In the past members of the SCNC had faced harassment and inhumane treatment by the police. For example, between 1999-2001 there were some clashes between SCNC members and the police and some SCNC activists were jailed for their behavior.

According to a representative of the SCNC, the Ambazonian Restoration Movement (ARM) has been set up by the Cameroon authorities as a fake Anglophone movement with the intention of discrediting the genuine objective for independence. The ARM has offices under the guise of the SCNC in Bamenda and has had demonstrations in Washington, USA. They claim persecution from the authorities and they produce letters to support asylum claims.

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