Listen: Language barrier: Cameroons forgotten conflict
"Not so long ago. Cameroon was a stable country in a fragile region. Today it's anything but for the past three years of bloody conflict. Raging separatist militias want independence for the English speaking areas of the mainly Francophone Country Poor governance silence. trigger-happy forces are burning down villages while the militias are becoming increasingly violent. Thousands have died in the unrest. More than half a million have been forced from their homes. I spent a week travelling in the anglophone the phone regions where the effects of the war are clear for everyone to see John. McDermott is our Africa correspondent in village after village that I drove through I saw fields feels that grown wild houses that are being burned down and several buildings are just been pot marked with bullets. The conflict was inescapable. The origins of the conflict go back at least a century after the first World War the former German colony of Cameroon was split up between Britain and France and then when those parts became independent in one thousand nine hundred sixty nine hundred and sixty one. They were spliced together to make modern day Cameroon and now the country is officially by lingual with roughly twenty percent of people speaking English and eighty percent of people speaking French but the English speakers claim. Decades of marginalization is Asian by the central government and year upon year. They've been promised more devolution to their regions but those promises have been repeatedly broken and so why did those attention start to increase three years ago. Those tensions had been bubbling for some time but towards the tail end of two thousand sixteen lawyers and teachers hit the streets protesting against the imposition of Francophone Systems and in response to those peaceful protests. The government hit back hard intern a year later. Some of the more extreme anglophones who are separatists I want independence they proclaimed the independent state of Amazonia Zonja which is named after the embassy in the southwest of the country and once more this led to another escalation this time violent international NGOs. Joe Think there's been at least three thousand people killed and perhaps several times more than not and so who's responsible for that. Violence is security. Forces is the a separatist themselves so neither are covering themselves in glory. Both separatist militias and security forces have committed atrocities. But there's also no doubt that the Cameroonian military is behind most of the bloodshed local. Ngo in Boya. The main city in the southwest region estimates that more than two hundred and twenty villages across the anglophone the phone region have been burned by Cameroonian military and you met some of the people who have been affected by that violence. Yes I met lots of people who'd been affected one man I met was called who had to flee his village of economic because of just a torrent of shootings and burnings by the military. He said he could recall literally hundreds of incidents where soldiers had fired at his fellow villagers story when a military gum Strauss. His immovable from galaxy censured was and in a when. You're hearing these stories. You can stop a why. Why are they doing this and for him? It just seemed like there was no questions asked us behind the soldiers they were just firing will do your neighbor in this to these two other people. I really cannot tell you. I really don't tell you because does does the systems municipal new way on Shugden. I do and you say the the army is responsible for most of the violence. But not all I mean well. What are the separatists doing so the separatists have mostly been attacking military and the military installations? But they've also also been attacking people on their own side who are deemed to be collaborators. With the State one woman I met Adeline worked for a state run company and call you you coming in Development Corporation which runs a series of plantations in the region and she described how one day she was accosted by about twenty of these militia men who attacked her tied to a tree stuff leaves her mouth is the diagnosed with autism or last about twitter witter and then chopped off a finger again. You ask them why they're doing this and her crime little as it might seem to us was to work for this state. Run Company and US was deemed a collaborator. If you have anything to do with the Francophone Central Government. You're into on this side. I mean that must have knock on effects for for the way. The country runs for the economy's for society. The economy is collapsing. The anglophone regions contribute about fifth of the country's GDP and the main in company is that plantation CD and since the attacks began a couple of years ago workers essentially stopped. Revenue is down ninety percent. MM sold a single banana when I went down to their headquarters in a tank with a the general manager and all his staff just seem completely full on these because because they had also been receiving lots of death. Threats phoned the separatists so I said you know how you how you dealing with this posed any side and he looked at me and I said I pray more or less and so in essence people are are simply afraid to to go about business as usual. Yes there's widespread terror amongst the population and it's especially acute amongst parents. Almost ninety percent of children and the anglophone regions have not gone to school for three years. This is partly because of forced displacements by the military but it's also because the separatists see schools as arms terms of the state. Now there are some incredibly brave educators who have set up ad hoc classrooms and buildings these displaced children again. It's not entirely entirely safe. I asked one of the teachers at the school. I visited Baya. How do you ensure the security of these children John and frankly she admitted you can never be one hundred percent safe award yet? If we knew in fact she said that there were often threats of kidnapping which has become increasingly common as separatists. Either seek to impose their will or frankly sometimes just seek to get extra money out of the population. So what about the people who aren't directly involved in the conflict in the anglophone region. How do they view the constant cycle of violence? It's hard to do polling in a war zone but when the violence began it seemed like there was a surge in support for the separatists who reviewed viewed as helping keeping local safe but as time has gone on and you find things like the sabotage of education opinion may be in slightly shifting against them. I interviewed a professor at the University of Boya Guy called Garner some of the inflicted on a community. Ah Ah change attitudes. And he said that loyalty to the separatists is indeed dwindling. No longer call him voice. Call them booze boys he he also told me that in what most anglophones want isn't necessarily independence they want more autonomy Habsi federal Cameroon's not a safe arenas we're waiting for it is. It is anglophone vessels from before but he was very keen to stress that the anglophones have grievances but there were the central government not the french-speaking compatriots. Do you think a kind of reduced appetite amongst the Anglophones Ford. This conflict will have any effect on it. I mean how do you see. The situation playing out at the moment went to win. A bit of a stalemate because the separatist militias take the towns and the Cameron Army camp take the Bush normally calls for a political solution. Cameroon lean governed as it is by president. Paul Biya who has been on the proverbial thrown for thirty seven years is prone to move slowly in September. He announced a national dialogue but it was a total sham. Some of the key people weren't invited and it wasn't really even about the anglophone crisis so what you have then is. Is this political process. That's going far too slowly also because the rest of the world doesn't take much notice it's an underfunded under reported crisis and the bulk of people are just stuck in the middle of these two warring sides. Many people just want to get on with their lives in peace and sadly that's only possible in a few safe places such as the very very center boyer one evening I was there in the center. I was waiting for the Bishop of the time. And I caught one of those few glimpses of normality through the open windows of the church. I watched a choir including many members been asked fled their homes from other parts of the region and they were they were practising their songs for me. It was just a little reminder that in the midst of all this violence and chaos there is an everyday urge. Just keep one can occasionally manifest itself in rather beautiful ways. John Thank you very much for your time. Thank you"