BAMENDA, CAMEROON - Schools and economic activity have completely shut down in Bamenda, an English-speaking city in western Cameroon after police opened fire, killing an 8-year-old girl. Several hundred irate residents took to the streets protesting the killing, while armed separatists have launched attacks on government forces, calling on the military to leave Bamenda.
Civilians shouted as Cameroonian troops shoot in the air to stop people from protesting Saturday along the streets of Bamenda, capital of Cameroon's restive English-speaking Northwest region.
Police said in a statement that residents are protesting Friday's killing of 8-year-old Tataw Brandy by a police officer in Bamenda. According to the statement, signed by Cameroon's police chief, Martin Mbarga Nguele, police wanted to immobilize a suspected vehicle and a bullet mistakenly hit and killed the 8-year old.
Civilians marched with the girl's dead body, calling for justice to be served. The police statement said separatist fighters infiltrated the protesting civilians.
Deben Tchoffo, governor of the Northwest region, said he gave instructions and the police officer suspected to have opened fire that killed the girl was arrested. He said investigations have been opened to determine whether the bullet that killed the girl was actually from the police officer's rifle. Tchoffo said he was pleading with civilians to not heed calls by separatists to close schools and businesses as a sign of discontent over what they consider military and police brutality toward civilians.
The protesters are asking the military to leave the streets, but the government says the troops are deployed to protect civilians from separatists fighting to create an independent state called Ambazonia.
Chris Anu, secretary for communication at what separatists call the Ambazonia Interim government, in a declaration shared on social media platforms after the child was killed, said fighters have been in running battles with government troops. He said separatists have ordered civilians to go out to the streets as a sign of protest against military and police brutality and the killing of civilians.
'We are saying until Cameroon stops killing our children and withdraws their soldiers back to their own territory, there will be no schooling in Ambazonia. We have to stop lamenting and begin to act and let the world see the outrage in us,' he said.
Anu said fighters have been instructed to make sure that schools which were authorized to open their doors this year are closed.
Rights groups say children and women are increasingly being targeted by both government forces and separatists.
Nicoline Nwenushi Wazeh is a member of Cameroon Women's Peace Movement. The movement negotiates with government troops and fighters to both drop weapons for a return to peace in Cameroon's western regions. Wazeh says both fighters and the military should spare civilians, especially women and children.
'I add my voice to deplore such acts and urge all parties to the crisis to exercise maximum caution and avoid civilian casualties. Parties to the conflict must adhere to international humanitarian law and keep children out of harm's way. Spare the population from all this trauma and panic,' Wazeh said.
Separatists have been fighting since 2017 to create a breakaway English-speaking state in the majority French-speaking country. The separatists complain of marginalization and discrimination by the French-speaking majority.
The United Nations says that the fighting has displaced more than 500,000 people and killed more than 3,000 civilians.