The Cameroonian government has concluded that its military killed three women and 10 children in a massacre in February this year. The massacre took place in Ngarbuh village in the English-speaking part of the country, where the government has been engaged in conflict since 2016 with separatist rebels.
This admission comes after the government initially denied responsibility, following Human Rights Watch’s first report of the incident, claiming instead that it was “an unfortunate accident”. Joseph Beti Assomo, the defense minister, said that the army had acted “professional as usual”.
After enormous public and internal pressure — including lobbying from the UN, Human Rights Watch, civil society organisations and opposition figures — the government agreed to set up a commission of inquiry.
This inquiry released its report on Tuesday, finding that the army was indeed culpable. Ferdinand Ngoh Ngoh, secretary general in the presidency, said three servicemen and 10 local vigilante members will be prosecuted for the act.
The government’s casualty figure of 13, however, differs from those of rights organisations.
Human Rights Watch said that government troops, aided by armed ethnic Fulani men, had deliberately killed at least 21 unarmed civilians, including 13 children and one pregnant woman. The United Nations said that 23 people were killed, including nine children under the age of five. Local rights groups put the casualty figures a little higher, at 32, saying others were missing.
The official inquiry said that soldiers had tried to destroy evidence of the killings. “Following an exchange of gunfire, during which five terrorists were killed, and many weapons seized, the detachment discovered that three women and ten children had died because of its action. Panic-stricken, the three servicemen with the help of some members of the vigilante committee, tried to conceal the facts by causing fires,” reads part of the report.
The government has been reluctant to consider mediated dialogue to end the conflict with separatists. Instead, Biya has been keen on using a military approach to quash the uprising which has seen an uptick in violence since 2017. The conflict has caused almost 60 000 people to flee to next door Nigeria, and has internally displaced about 679 000 others, according to UN estimates. More than 3 000 people have been killed as the government moves to “neutralise terrorists”.
Amindeh Blaise Atabong is a media fellow with Germany’s Konrad Adenauer Stiftung.