YAOUNDE, CAMEROON —
Cameroon governors say several thousand of the 750,000 people displaced by the separatist conflict in two western regions are returning home for the first time since hostilities began in 2017.
The military says no major separatist attack has been reported within the past six weeks, an indication that peace is returning to the regions where 3,500 people have been killed in five years.
Several hundred people wait at a motor park in Cameroon’s capital Yaounde to be transported to Bamenda. Bamenda is the capital of Cameroon’s English-speaking Northwest region, one of two where separatists have been fighting the government for the past five years.
Cameroon police say it is the first time in several years that so many people are travelling to Bamenda.
Benedict Ndi is a 44-year-old teacher who is travelling with his wife and four children. Ndi says from Bamenda, his family will continue to his village, Ndop, located 70 kilometers to the north of Bamenda.
Ndi says last week, he went to Ndop to confirm that peace is returning before traveling with his wife and children.
“It was very scary seeing signs of bullets on a lot of buildings but amazingly, surprisingly people are having fun, during the day there is business,” Ndi said. “There is a lot of movement. I talked to a few men and they are happy that now there is some peace, there is some calm. They can now work and take care of their families.”
Cameroon’s unrest began in 2017 after a government crackdown on peaceful protests led by English-speaking lawyers and teachers who complained of being marginalized by the French-speaking majority.
Now, officials say the violence is dying down, making it safe for displaced residents in the Northwest and Southwests to go home.
Deben Tchoffo is the governor of the Northwest region. He says besides displaced children, merchants and government workers who fled separatist atrocities are returning to their towns and villages.
“The security situation has improved a lot allowing many people to come back to their various villages,” Tchoffo said. “The diaspora are also coming back to celebrate their weddings. The administration is functioning very well. The traditional rulers are coming back, political activities have resumed in many areas. Globally, the Northwest is faring well.”
Cameroon’s government says thousands of people are also returning to the restive Southwest region. The region’s governor, Bernard Okalia Bilai says civilians who are returning are finding peace.
He says no major separatist attack has been reported in Cameroon’s Southwestern region within the past six weeks.
Bilai says the separatists’ ability to attack has been greatly weakened by Cameroon’s military with the support of civilians.
“After five years, families are coming back,” said Bilai.T “he population in most of the areas are the ones arresting some terrorists, helping us to seize weapons. They are the ones inviting the forces of law and order, to say this man is a suspect.”
Bilai said people whose houses have been destroyed should inform local administrators. The government says the Presidential Plan for the Reconstruction and Development of the English-speaking Northwest and Southwest regions has funds to rebuild destroyed houses.
The reconstruction and development plan envisions construction of roads, schools, hospitals, public edifices, markets, private homes and villages in areas destroyed in fighting.
On social media platforms including WhatsApp and Facebook, separatists groups deny that their firepower has been reduced by the military. They say they have asked fighters to reduce attacks on the military so civilians can celebrate Christmas.