GAROUA, CAMEROON – Cameroon’s military has arrested several dozen men and destroyed hundreds of locally made guns and weapons the men allegedly circulated on the central African state’s northern border with Chad and Nigeria.
A military compactor crushes more than 2,500 locally made guns, ammunition and other weapons the military says it seized over the past three weeks from smugglers, hostage takers, poachers and suspected Boko Haram fighters.
Among those watching the destruction is Regine Esseneme, head of Cameroon’s department of justice in the northern town of Garoua.
She said by assisting in the destruction of the weapons she wants to pass the message that there will be no pardon for highway robbers, hostage takers and fighters who are making life unbearable for people living on the borders between Cameroon, Nigeria and Chad. She said everyone should know that the three countries are now working together to stop kidnappers and poachers illegally using weapons.
Jean Abate Edii, governor of Cameroon’s North region, says the weapons were seized after several raids on neighborhoods and villages suspected to be the hideouts of criminals operating in Cameroon and surrounding countries.
The six-nation regional bloc CEMAC has frequently blamed the proliferation of small arms and light weapons for the armed conflicts, criminal and terrorist activities taking place in west-central Africa.
Cameroon has experienced increasing instability since 2013 when the Boko Haram insurgency first began to spill over from Nigeria. Since November 2016, the country has also been facing a secessionist movement that has killed more than 3,000.
Alamine Abdouramann, a Garoua-based activist with the Trauma Center for Victims of Armed Conflicts, said the initiative to seize and destroy the weapons is good, but also pointed out that he has been receiving reports that some suspects are tortured.
Abdouramann said the government should make sure it is strictly respecting the human rights of all arrested suspects and that they are not tortured or killed. He said if the government uses force on those it arrests with weapons, it may anger their peers to want to retaliate which will have a spill-over effect on civilians who are already in desperate need of peace.
Cameroon’s military has rejected the allegations of human rights abuses, saying the military has remained professional and that suspects will be brought before the courts.
The number of arms in Cameroon was classified as moderate in a 2017 survey on gun policy by Sydney University, ranking the central African state 99 out of 178 nations. Still, more than 500,000 arms are said to be owned legally or illegally by civilians, and most owners are found along the border with Nigeria, which is porous and poorly policed.
Source: Voice of America