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  • "It is essential that steps be taken now, to de-escalate the increasing crisis in the country, and prevent a further descent into violence," the UNHRC chief said. | Photo: Reuters

Published 6 March 2019

"It is essential that steps be taken now to de-escalate the increasing crisis in the country and prevent a further descent into violence," UNHRC chief said.

Cameroon may fall further into violence if the government does not stop hate speech by politicians and heavy-handed tactics by security forces, the United Nations human rights chief warned Wednesday.

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Long-running tensions have erupted into conflicts with separatists in the southwest and religious extremists in the northwest, prompting crackdowns by security forces and leaving 1.3 million people in need of aid, according to the United Nations.

Security measures included mass arrests after peaceful demonstrations in several cities across the country in January. Police arrested opposition leader Maurice Kamto and roughly 150 of his supporters on Jan. 26. Kamto was later charged with sedition, insurrection and inciting violence Feb. 1, his lawyer said.  Authorities had banned planned protest marches in the capital Yaounde.

Protests are rare outside of the heated anglophone region in the southwest where Ambazona separatists are active. Currently 10 separatist leaders are on trial for charges of terrorism after being extradited last year from Nigeria. The next court date is Mar. 7.

A Nigerian court condemned as "illegal and unconstitutional" the arrest and deportation of 47 Cameroonian separatists who had fled Cameroon in January 2018 following a crackdown by the authorities. They applied for asylum in Nigeria, their lawyers said Sunday.

The move was also denounced by the U.N. refugee agency which said that most had filed asylum claims and accused Nigeria of breaching international agreements. Last week, Cameroon's Foreign Minister Lejeune Mbella told the U.N. council that his government was increasing rights training for civil servants and the security forces.

"The defense and security forces have remained highly professional in their behavior despite aggression against them by Boko Haram (militants) and barbaric attacks by so-called separatist armed gangs," he said.

Accusations of violations by security personnel were being investigated "diligently" and would be punished, Mbella added.

In the past few months, 40,000 refugees fled into Cameroon from Rann, a Nigerian town just across the border that has been repeatedly attacked by Islamist insurgents Boko Haram. The Islamic State group has also claimed attacks in the area.

More than 30,000 refugees returned to Rann last week after being urged to accept assurances about an improvement in security. Earlier this year the U.N. refugee agency criticized Cameroon for turning away fleeing Nigerians, but it said Cameroon had given assurances last week that refugees from Rann were not being forced to return.

"It is essential that steps be taken now to de-escalate the increasing crisis in the country and prevent a further descent into violence," U.N. Human Rights Council High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet said.

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