By Aurore Bonny
NGARBUH, Cameroon (AA) - Cameroonian government forces and armed ethnic Fulani herders killed at least 21 civilians this month in Ngarbuh village, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report released Tuesday.
The report said 13 children and a pregnant woman were among the victims of the Feb.14 massacre in northwestern Cameroon.
Several victims were found burnt to death in their torched homes.
HRW's investigation found that 10 to 15 soldiers, including members of the Rapid Intervention Battalion (BIR), an elite unit of the Cameroonian army, and at least 30 Fulani were responsible for the massacres.
They “first entered Ngarbuh 1, a neighborhood in Ngarbuh, on foot at about 11 p.m. on February 13, looting scores of homes. Some of these forces then continued to the Ngarbuh 2 neighborhood, looting homes and beating civilians. At around 5:00 a.m. on February 14, a group of soldiers and armed Fulani attacked the Ngarbuh 3 neighborhood, killing 21 civilians in four homes, then burning the houses,” according to testimony gathered by the NGO.
HRW also said it had examined satellite images taken before and after the attack on Ngarbuh 3 showing several homes with damage consistent with a possible fire.
Civilians suspected of harboring separatist fighters were threatened and attacked as punishment by the military, according to other testimony.
"We have already killed children in Ngarbuh 3, so we can kill you too," a soldier was quoted as saying.
- Government denies allegations
The report contradicted the version of events given by Cameroon's Minister of Communication Rene Sadi in a speech on Feb. 18.
According to Sadi, it was an explosion of fuel tanks that destroyed several homes and caused several people’s deaths following a clash between armed terrorists and government security forces.
However, the explosion was denied in the HRW report. For the victims, the killings were deliberate and no explosion was heard.
"The killings of civilians, including children, committed under horrific conditions are heinous crimes that should be effectively and independently investigated and those responsible brought to justice," said Ilaria Allegrozzi, senior Africa researcher at HRW.
It should be recalled that the Cameroonian army has been repeatedly accused of abuses that have been denied by the Cameroonian government.
However, for Allegrozzi, denying these crimes "adds to the trauma suffered by the survivors and will only encourage government troops to commit further atrocities.”
The victims are ethnic Fulani living in and around Ngarbuh also known as “Mbororo,” a minority community in Cameroon. According to several human rights defenders, they are targeted by armed groups.
Recently, a communique from the Network of Human Rights Defenders in Central Africa (REDHAC) shared by the local press revealed that these people are being prosecuted, among other things, because they are vulnerable, located in remote camps and to settle scores.
As a result, around 11,755 Mbororo have been displaced, including 3,755 children, and 246 killed, while more than 153 million francs have been collected in ransom, more than 2,600 cattle seized and 470 of their homes burnt down by separatists as part of the country’s Anglophone crisis.