YAOUNDÈ, Cameroon – Pascaline Obi, her husband and four children were fast asleep when the calm and quiet in their small village in southwestern Cameroon was shattered by the sound of a gunshot. Marauding gunmen were once more on the sprawl, and their target was the sleeping civilians.
“We heard gunshots. It was around 6:00 a.m. People started forcing open the door to our house. We all huddled together under a blanket. The gunmen forced their way into our bedroom. They said they had come to kill, and immediately shot my husband in the head. They cut me severely with a machete and forced me to hand over all the money we had in the house, which was about $325,” Obi recounted.
Pascaline survived, while her husband didn’t. The attackers burnt her house and that means Obi will not only have to cater to the needs of the four children, but will also need to find a new home.
At least 30 people died during the Nov. 6 attack in Egbekaw village in Mamfe Diocese of Cameroon’s troubled southwest region. Some, including a seven-month-old baby, were burned alive, and roughly 20 homes were burnt to the ground.
Separatist fighters operating in the area have been suspected of carrying out the killings, with the Communications Director for the Mamfe Diocese, Father Christopher Eboka, explaining that the village might have been deliberately targeted.
“What we understand is that those who were targeted had escaped violence from other areas in search of peace in Egbechaw, but it appears some among them have been collaborating with the forces of law and order and were therefore treated as traitors,” he told Crux.
Even so, observers note, that theory doesn’t account for the indiscriminate nature of the violence, with even infants and young children among the victims.
The attack has received a wave of condemnation both from religious and administrative authorities.
The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights said it “strongly condemns” the killings and expressed concern about “the continued deterioration of the human rights situation in the English-speaking regions of the North West and South West of Cameroon.”
UN Secretary General António Guterres said such attacks on civilians are “unacceptable,” and the Bishop of Mamfe, Aloysius Fondong Abangalo, called the attack “heinous” and “intrinsically evil.”
“We vehemently condemn the atrocious act that brought about the destruction of the lives of so many innocent men, women, and children,” the bishop said in a statement.
“The massacre of human beings is an intrinsically evil act because it violates the fifth commandment of the Decalogue: You shall not kill,” he said.
He prayed for “the eternal repose of the souls of those murdered; for the quick recovery of those gravely injured; and, for the conversion of those who perpetrated the heinous act.”
News of the tragedy also reached the Vatican, and Pope Francis has expressed his spiritual closeness with the afflicted population.
In a letter addressed to Archbishop Andrew Nkea Fuanya of Bamenda, President of the National Episcopal Conference of Cameroon, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin wrote that Pope Francis was “deeply saddened” by news of the massacre.
“His Holiness Pope Francis was deeply saddened to be informed of the recent killings that took place in Egbekaw in the Diocese of Mamfe. He asks you to convey his spiritual closeness and assurance of his prayers to those affected by this tragedy,” the letter reads.
The pope implored the Almighty God to embrace the souls of the departed, particularly the innocent children who were so mercilessly murdered, and prayed for the recovery of those injured and bereaved.
The Egbekaw killings are a bleak reminder of a conflict that has persisted for seven years, resulting in the deaths of at least 6,000 people and the displacement of over a million others. At the heart of the conflict is a feeling of marginalization by Cameroon’s minority English speakers.
Those feelings burst into the open in 2016 when Lawyers and Teachers in the two English-speaking regions, which make up 20 percent of Cameroon’s estimated 27 million people took to the streets to protest what they see as discrimination at the hands of French-speaking schools and courts. The government took a hard line, and responded violently to the protests.
A separatist wing developed and took up arms in a desperate fight to form a new nation to be called Ambazonia. More than 4,000 civilians are believed to have been killed in the violence, along with roughly 2,000 combatants, and 700,000 Cameroonians have been internally displaced.
Pope Francis has called for a conversion of hearts in the interest of peace.
“Trusting in the divine grace that can enable hearts to turn from evil and seek good, he prays that all will resolve to renounce every form of violence and commit themselves to the ways of peace,” Parolin’s letter reads.