Yaounde, Cameroon – Cameroon has blamed arms smuggling from its neighbors for fueling Boko Haram terrorism, anglophone separatists, and crime. The military says it has recovered only a small fraction of illegal small arms out of what is thought to be more 100,000, most of them smuggled from neighboring Chad and Nigeria.
Cameroon’s military pointed the finger at its neighbors after meetings Tuesday on arms smuggling in the towns of Maroua and Garoua on the borders with Chad and Nigeria.
The military blamed arms smuggled from its neighbors for fueling Boko Haram militants, separatists, and a surge in crime along the borders.
Colonel Jean Jacques Fouda, who is leading the military’s fight against the proliferation of smuggled weapons, said many illegal arms seized in northern Cameroon come from countries in conflict such as the Central African Republic, Chad, Nigeria, and as far away as Sudan.
He said arms circulated illegally by Boko Haram militants remain a threat to security and peace in Cameroon, adding that the terrorist group distributes weapons to civilians to fight government troops. But he said some civilians are also using the weapons to attack and kill people in towns and villages on the Cameroonian, Nigerian, and Chadian borders.
At the same time, Cameroon’s military said attacks by Boko Haram on military installations, markets and churches have dropped significantly in the past three months.
But authorities in Yaounde noted a strong link between arms trafficking from the neighboring Central African Republic, Chad, and Nigeria into Cameroon and a surge in crime.
The Central African Republic, Chad and Nigeria have pledged to work with Cameroon to tackle border crimes like arms smuggling.
The African Union and Cameroon estimate about 130,000 illegal small arms are circulating in Cameroon, including handguns, rifles, and machine guns.
In the past 10 months, the military says it recovered about 1,500 illegal weapons in northern Cameroon.
Cameroon’s military says another 3,500 weapons were recovered from western regions, where English-speaking separatists are fighting to break away from the French-speaking majority.
Julie Mballa, who leads the disarmament project at the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in Cameroon, said most civilians who use the weapons to steal or kill are jobless youths. Speaking Tuesday on state broadcaster CRTV, she said efforts are underway to educate male youths, who make up most of the civilians with illegal arms, and prod them to lay down their weapons.
Boko Haram’s Islamist militants often target unemployed young men for recruitment into the terrorist group.
The U.N. says the conflict, which started in 2009 in northeast Nigeria, has killed more than 350,000 people and displaced two million across Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, and Niger.
The Central African Republic has been in armed conflict since 2013, with rebels and arms spilling across Cameroon’s eastern border.
The U.N. says since Cameroon’s separatist conflict broke out in 2017, more than 3,300 civilians have been killed and 700,000 displaced.