YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – Cameroonian soldiers ‘invaded’ a medical facility as they hunted Anglophone separatists in the country’s troubled northwest region.
The attack took place on Feb. 17, in the Diocese of Kumbo, which has been plagued by the fighting between the army and rebels.
The Shisong Cardiac Center at St. Elizabeth Catholic General hospital is the only facility where heart diseases are treated in Central Africa. The soldiers stormed the building searching for separatist fighters.
“It is giving us a very bad name,” said Bishop George Nkuo.
“The army can come in to the hospital where there are cardiac patients and move around in search of whomever. It is not done; but that was done. And they shoot around even with people who are cardiac patients. That is the most irresponsible act to do. Most unprofessional I would say at the least,” he told Crux.
A local Catholic radio station in the area, Radio Evangelum gave details on how the military assault was conducted.
“About 11 a.m. that Sunday, defense forces of Cameroon got into the premises of Saint Elizabeth Catholic General Hospital and Cardiac Centre, Shisong. It is alleged that they were in search of wounded separatist fighters who might have been admitted in the hospital,” the station reported.
“Five military men, carrying arms, entered the hospital through the gate leading into the Farewell Home. They moved into the Cardiac Centre section of the hospital next to the Farewell Home. The soldiers, reports say, went into the wards in that section, and took out a boy who was taking care of his grandmother admitted in the hospital. They proceeded to the inner sections of the hospital, went to the Surgical Unit, and moved into one of the wards. The soldiers are said to have fired some gunshots inside the hospital premises,” the report continued.
The station said the Tertiary Sisters of Saint Francis who run the hospital were on a day of recollection that Sunday, but some of the sisters immediately came to the hospital where they met the soldiers.
The nuns told the soldiers to stop their disruptive actions and to leave. The soldiers complied, and released one young man they had detained.
“The likelihood of trauma on patients and health workers is high. The effect of the incident on patients in the Cardiac Center section could be disastrous and long lasting. The administration of the hospital was uncomfortable with the incident,” said Sister Mary Aldrine Kinyuy, the director of the hospital.
The incident happened just a day after separatists kidnapped over 100 students from a Catholic school in the diocese. They were released the next day.
Nkuo said Kumbo has recently become a theater for conflict, with people being killed, homes burnt and property destroyed.
About 80 percent of Cameroon is French-speaking. However, the Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon are majority English-speaking, a legacy of the colonial history of the country: Cameroon was originally German, but after World War I the defeated country transferred it to the Allies, and it was divided between France and Britain.
At independence, the two parts were reunited, and currently about 20 percent of the country’s nearly 25 million people is anglophone. The Catholic Church is the largest religious group in the country, representing about 40 percent of all Cameroonians.
In October 2016, strikes by lawyers and teachers over perceived attempts by the Francophone administration to assimilate the legal and educational systems practiced in the two English-speaking regions turned violent, and morphed into rising demands by Anglophone Cameroonians for independence.
The government has been accused of razing entire villages and extrajudicial killings in their hunt for separatists, who are calling on the English-speaking areas to form a new country, called ‘Ambazonia.’
Separatists have also been accused of atrocities, and have attacked Cameroonian security forces, and kidnapped opponents for ransom.
“There is shooting and random killing,” the bishop said. He said much of the killing is carried out by government soldiers, whom he accuses of acting unprofessionally.
“I have seen houses burnt and I am even told that there are a number of people being killed… And the people who have been killed are innocent people, innocent civilians. I am very sad indeed,” Nkuo said.
“I can tell you that people are living in great fear. I have had the chance to go round the diocese, to go on pastoral visits, in fact today (Feb. 17), I was in one of the parishes and three-quarters of the people have left. They are not there. They have left. I can even say that some of them have threatened they would never come back,“ the bishop added.
The bishop admitted that he himself wasn’t safe, but he can’t abandon those “who have no way else to go.”
“The bishop cannot leave them. I am there with them because somebody must be there to reassure them that there is hope, that there is a future and that God is in control. That is why I am still in Kumbo,” he said.
Recently, a picture of the bishop went viral after it showed him carrying a box on his head while visiting a remote village in November.
Catholic bishop George Nkuo of Kumbo, NW Cameroon like early missionaries; on foot, on pastoral visit to Nkar Parish..with head load. No car access to many towns as the conflict between the army & Ambazonia separatists stretches. Untold suffering for villagers with roads blocked! pic.twitter.com/HzY4p8sKRD
— Randy Joe Sa'ah (@Randyjoesaah) November 13, 2018
“I don’t know why it went viral. I am sorry about that,” he said, before noting that he was just doing what he ought to do as a pastor in the circumstance.
“If I have to go and meet the people and the road is blocked, what should I do? Should I stay back? No! This is what the missionary does and this is what we should do. We must go to meet the people even when we meet obstacles, we must be humble enough, we must show a sense of mission that we can overcome the obstacles and go to where the people are,” Nkuo said.
He acknowledged the fact that he has not been able to reach all his parishes, but insisted that wherever possible, he would go.
“God, the Church expects us to do that and we do it joyfully and happily because we know that the people of God need us and we must go there and attend to them,“ the bishop explained.