Paul Biya, Cameroon’s president and one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders, announced Friday that he will run again in October’s election, while growing tensions with Anglophone separatists exploded in an ambush on a delegation led by the country’s defense minister.
The 85-year-old President Paul Biya has been in power since 1982. He oversees an increasingly restive Central African nation that faces not only the separatists but also the threat from Boko Haram extremists crossing the border from Nigeria.
In his announcement on Twitter, the president told his countrymen that “I am willing to respond positively to your overwhelming calls.” Cameroon got rid of term limits in 2008 after Biya pressed to change the constitution.
Cameroon’s military said the ambush on Defense Minister Joseph Beti Assomo’s delegation occurred late Thursday when the separatists, hiding in nearby bushes, opened fire with guns and “poisoned spears” on his convoy during a visit to the restive southwest.
Military spokesman Col. Didier Badjeck said soldiers fired back and 10 separatists were killed in the 30-minute confrontation. Several delegation members were injured but the minister was unharmed.
“Hundreds of the attackers escaped to the bushes where they are still being hunted by the military,” Badjeck said.
The separatists on social media had warned the defense minister against visiting any part of the English-speaking northwest or southwest regions they now call the new state of Ambazonia. The armed movement grew out of frustrations in late 2016 by English-speaking teachers and lawyers with the dominance of the French language and the marginalization of Cameroon’s Anglophone population.
Biya has since declared war against the separatists, describing them as terrorists.
More than 160,000 people have been internally displaced by the fighting and tens of thousands have fled to Nigeria, according to the United Nations. Cameroon’s government says more than 200 military persons and civilians have been killed.
Human rights groups have accused the government of a harsh crackdown and indiscriminate arrests. They also have accused Cameroon’s government of harsh treatment against suspected Boko Haram extremists. On Thursday, the military denied its soldiers were involved in a video that appears to show women with small children being blindfolded and shot dead as suspected Boko Haram suicide bombers.
Amnesty International, however, said its own investigation “gathered credible evidence that it was Cameroonian soldiers.”