A tribute was held Friday at an army headquarters in Yaounde to the 17 soldiers and eight civilians killed June 10 by Boko Haram in Darak, on Cameroon’s northern border.
Retired teacher Clement Ndzana was among the hundreds who came to honor the fallen soldiers. He said the sacrifices made by the military were not in vain because Cameroon has remained united and none of its territory is under the terrorists’ control.
The government of Cameroon also celebrates its military for protecting state institutions and defending the country against Boko Haram and separatist forces in the northwest and southwest.
But not everyone in the country approves of the military’s actions. Some accuse the military of heinous crimes, including the killing of civilians and burning of homes.
Mary Yekong, 60, said her family of four has lived in a room in Obili, a neighborhood in Yaounde, for five months. They fled from the northwestern village of Meluf, which she said government soldiers attacked. The soldiers torched at least 30 houses, including hers, she said.
Yekong said the family ran, leaving behind their old and sick mother, when the Cameroon military arrived and began shooting indiscriminately in the air. She said that from where she was hiding, she saw two of the troops carry their mother out of the house before setting it ablaze.
The government blamed separatist fighters for the burnings, in which nine people were killed, but Yekong said she thought the military was responsible because the attackers used armored cars, which separatist fighters lack.
Rights groups have accused Cameroon’s military of conducting extrajudicial killings and burning down of homes in its campaign against separatists and Boko Haram insurgents.
In one of its reports, Amnesty International said investigators gathered credible evidence that Cameroonian soldiers were pictured in a video carrying out the horrific extrajudicial executions of two women and two children.
The government insists the army is professional. However, Col. Jean Legrand Mvondo Akoutou, director of Cameroon military justice, acknowledged there had been some cases of alleged abuse that were being investigated by a tribunal. He said suspects were to be presumed innocent until found otherwise.
Akoutou refused to give examples but said many cases of abuse had been punished.