The Local Organising Committee (LOC) of the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) and the Cameroonian government have tightened security around the Super Eagles and other teams participating in the ongoing AFCON following the killing of a prominent lawyer and opposition lawmaker by suspected separatist fighters in the host country’s restive English-speaking North West region.
Opposition Senator, Henry Kemende, was reportedly shot dead at close range in the northwestern city of Bamenda, authorities from his party and the government said on Wednesday.
Kemende’s body was located after he “was killed by unidentified armed assailants,” an official said. Kemende was a lawyer turned Social Democratic Front (SDF) legislator, one of the main opposition parties in Cameroun.
Joshua Osih, the vice president of the SDF, told the AFP news agency, “We recovered his body, his chest riddled with bullets.”
Authorities said they did not know the location of Kemende’s vehicle. Cameroun officials have prioritized security for the ongoing AFCON and given numerous assurances that security is a top concern in the run-up to and during the tournament.
Cameroun’s English speakers have staged repeated protests that have been met by violence from security forces. The killing of the senator caused panic on Wednesday afternoon before the match between Mali and Tunisia following a gun battle between government forces and pro-independence fighters in Buea, the capital of restive Southern Cameroun.
One Cameroonian gendarme officer was also reported dead.
The incident occurred less than two miles away from the Molyko sports complex, where the Malian national team was training on Wednesday.
The game, which ended with confusion, saw Mali winning 1-0. Buea is the capital of the Southwest Region, which with the neighboring North-West region, is in the grip of violence sparked by a bid by Cameroun’s Anglophone minority to secede from the French-majority country.
After years of frustration at perceived discrimination, separatists declared a “Federal Republic of Ambazonia” in October 2017.
Cameroun has been torn by violence since October 2017, when militants declared an independent state in the northwest and southwest, home to most of the Anglophone minority in the majority French-speaking country.
Both the separatists and government forces have been accused of atrocities in the fighting, which has killed more than 3,000 people and forced over 700,000 to flee their homes.
The Cameroun government, however, assured players of their safety. The authorities clarified in an interview with AFP that the part of the country hosting matches involving the Super Eagles of Nigeria was relatively safe.
The Guardian learned yesterday that more security personnel have been drafted to secure hotels and match venues.
“I don’t think the fighters can disrupt the AFCON unless they carry out a really large attack, even though that remains a possibility,” said Guibai Gatama, editor of northern Cameroun’s leading twice-weekly publication, L’Oeil du Sahel (The Eye of the Sahel).
“The stadium in the North, where Group D (comprising Egypt, Nigeria, Sudan, and Guinea Bissau) play, is located in Garoua, which is very far from their sphere of operation.”
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