Washington, 14 February 2019– The United States has called on the government of the Republic of Cameroon to investigate a deadly arson attack on a hospital in Kumba, Southern Zone of the breakaway next-door Republic of Ambazonia.
We call on the Cameroonian government to “conduct a transparent investigation into this crime,” the US embassy in Yaounde, Cameroon’s capital, said in a statement on its website.
Four people, including two patients who could not get to safety, were burnt alive in the attack.
Even before an investigation was launched, the Cameroonian officials wasted no time blaming pro-independence fighters, known fondly as Amba Boys, for the attack.
Cameroon’s Communications (Propaganda) Minister Rene Emmanuel Sadi told state-owned radio on Tuesday that “a horde of secessionist rebels” escalated the hospital wall, fired in the air with automatic weapons, terrified those at the hospital before setting it ablaze.
Pro-independence groups have denied involvement, returning the favor by accusing the Cameroonian government troops for organizing the attack in what they describe as “a fruitless effort to put the terrorist tag to the pro-independence movement”.
The fire completely destroyed the surgical and male wards at the Kumba District Hospital. The nearby residences occupied by some of the hospital staff were also targeted and torched. Half a dozen vehicles belonging to staff that were parked on the hospital premises or its immediate vicinity were also reduced to ashes.
Kumba is the economic capital of Ambazonia’s Southern Zone. It has, so far, not been the scene of significant fighting or hit-and-run guerrilla attacks that have been the hallmark of the war declared on 30 November 2017 by Cameroon against Ambazonian independence campaigners.
In declaring the war, President Paul Biya of Cameroon called pro-independence campaigners “terrorists” and “secessionists”.
The statement by the US embassy in Yaounde also calls on both sides in the ongoing war to “allow unfettered access to humanitarian and healthcare workers.”
Cameroonian officials have not only prevented humanitarian assistance from reaching over half a million internally displaced persons, they have confiscated assistance donated by people of good will from reaching the needy.
In what many observers seen as a desire to hide genocidal violence and atrocity crimes, Mr. Biya’s regime has also denied visits to the war zone by United Nations Human Rights officials and by independent journalists.
The United Nations has described the ongoing war in Ambazonia as “Africa’s fastest-growing mass displacement crisis” with over half a million people believed to be internally displaced and over 100,000 driven into refugee camps in neighboring Nigeria.
The attack on the Kumba District Hospital is not the first on a health facility in Ambazonia. Cameroonian armed and security forces have been responsible for attacks on nurses, Red Cross staff, paramedics, doctors, ambulance operators, and doctors at several health centers.
Attacks have, so far, targeted staff, hospitals and health centers in Kumbo, Mbingo, Mbangwi and Bafut in the Northern Zone as well as in Muyuka, Ekona and Konye in the Southern Zone.
Cameroon security forces have killed three nurses in Kumbo as well as a paramedic (Njong Padisco) along with the latter’s spouse (a nurse) based in Ashong, Mbengwi. The couple was accused of providing medical care to injured Ambazonian independence fighters and were summarily executed just outside the health center where they used to work and their mortal remains abandoned to flies and dogs.
One of the nurses killed in Kumbo was fatally hit in the back with bullets fired by Cameroonian armed and security forces. The nurse was being brought into work at the hospital by a taxi bike rider when he was shot at and instantly killed. One of his two other colleagues killed – both female; one of them pregnant with her first child – were also shot dead execution style in the prime of their lives.
Rev. sisters of the Roman Catholic Church in Bafut found themselves, along with other women, the only ones left behind to bury the dead after Bafut was hit in raids by security forces, who ransacked the hospital and tortured hospital staff.
In one other incident, a medical doctor who had gone out for lunch break was shot dead by armed and security forces as he headed back to work.
In what has become a standard pretext, the soldiers who executed the medical doctor tried to make him pass for an Ambazonian freedom fighters, by placing a hunting gun in the hands of the dead doctor. They shot pictures of the mortal remains with the gun and shared widely on social media, claiming the doctor was an Amba Boy until their version was debunked by hospital staff and the sister of the slain doctor.
Accounts of numerous eyewitnesses and patients who were at the Kumba District Hospital at the time of the attack hold that Cameroonian armed and security forces stormed the hospital in search of injured Amba Boys believed to be receiving treatment at the facility.
According to these accounts, the soldiers combed through the hospital, surrounding the male ward, where they believed any Amba Boys would have been hospitalized. They emptied out the ward of patients and still not unearthing any Amba Boys decided that they may be hiding somewhere in the ward. it is then, according to reliable accounts, that they set hospital ablaze.
Pro-independence campaigners argue that only the male ward was torched because the troops did not believe that any Ambazonia independence fighters would be found or may have been hospitalized in the female ward.
According to these accounts, the surgical block was targeted as another possible hideout for injured Amba Boys recovering from surgery.
Cameroonian officials have turned to scorched earth practices as they struggle to tackle the menace posed by faceless Ambazonian independence fighters.
No fewer than 20 people have been burnt alive in their homes since the beginning of the war. Cameroonian troops have, so far, looted and burnt down over 200 villages across Ambazonia, including schools.
A spokesperson for the Cameroonian army admitted recently on a video produced by the Washington Post that Cameroonian troops have burnt down facilities described, by them, as training camps for Amba Boys.
The facts do not bear that version out.
Social media is awash with video showing Cameroonian troops torching homes, businesses and one school.
The Biya-appointee and colonial governor of Ambazonia’s Northern Zone was laughed at by observers and those he called victims when he told state media that Cameroonian armed and security were deployed in Ambazonia allegedly to save property and parents from their arsonist children (referring to Amba Boys).
Many observers, while applauding the US embassy in Yaounde for demanding an investigation, wonder how the government – an accused and party to the war – can be trusted to provide what can be considered an independent investigation into what so many are not hesitating to describe as a war crime.