Government soldiers have threatened Sisters at a Catholic hospital in the war-torn Anglophone regions of Cameroon for the second time this year.
Army officers told the Tertiary Sisters of St Francis they were looking for armed separatist group members, known as the Amba Boys. After a two-hour search of the medical facility, the heavily-armed officers found no combatants. However, a media release from the Sisters reports that the soldiers vowed to burn down the hospital the next time they visit it.
Cameroon government soldiers in three armoured vehicles arrived at the St Elizabeth Catholic General Hospital Cardiac Centre at 1:30pm on 14 November. The hospital is in Shisong in the Bui area of the mainly English-speaking north-west Region. The Soldiers forced hospital director, Doctor Sister Anshoma Helen Mbouh, to accompany the soldiers as they spent more than two hours searching every section of the health facility.
Death threats and intimidation
The media release from the Tertiary Sisters of St Francis continues:
‘Not finding the Amba boys they were looking for, they started insulting and threatening the Reverend Sisters’.
The officers said they would shoot the Sisters. They then allegedly beat two hospital security officers severely during interrogation.
Armed soldiers searched the same hospital on 19 July this year. The media release reports that when they left the hospital on November 14 at 3:45pm, some of soldiers expressed remorse. But, it continued:
‘some of them continued with their threats to the Sisters and the Hospital. They promised that the next time they would be back, they will set the entire hospital on fire’.
Violating a place of healing
Commenting on the invasion, Lord Alton said:
‘It is intolerable that a hospital and its patients and staff should once again be subjected to heavy-handed intimidation, threats and harassment by government forces. This is an outrageous violation of a place dedicated to saving lives and healing. The Cameroon government owe the hospital an immediate apology and a promise that there will be no recurrence’.
It is a war crime to attack a hospital during a conflict, even when it treats enemy wounded.
Lord Alton will be tabling a Parliamentary Question asking the British government, which recently signed a trade deal with Cameroon, to urge the authorities in Yaoundé to urgently participate in inclusive peace talks to break the impasse in the Anglophone Crisis.
The Anglophone crisis
There has been increasing violence in the English-speaking area of Cameroon since 2016, when the Francophone-dominated government tried to impose French-language procedures, judges, and teachers in courts and schools on the area’s six million Anglophones. Hundreds of thousands of unarmed civilians have been driven from their villages as their homes have been burnt. This has caused a humanitarian crisis which continues to deteriorate. Armed separatists demanding independence for the Anglophone regions, which they call Ambazonia, have responded to harsh government tactics with violence of their own. Armed men claiming to represent the Ambazonian separatist fighters have also threatened doctors, nurses, religious orders and medical facilities. Repeated efforts by the Swiss Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue and Swiss government to hold inclusive peace talks have been rebuffed by Cameroon, and encouragement from the Vatican has gone unheeded.
Missio has been supporting our sisters and brothers in Cameroon throughout the ongoing crisis, in any way that we can. Our Christmas appeal this year features Fr Noah, a Mill Hill Missionary in Cameroon. He is working to create a safe school for local and refugee children to learn and grow. With your vital prayers and donations he and countless missionaries around the world can help bring peace, stability and hope where there is conflict and violence.
Please hold the Sisters and patients at St Elizabeth Catholic General Hospital, and all our sisters and brothers living through this crisis, in your prayers today.