YAOUNDE, Cameroon (AP) — The United States ambassador to Cameroon said Thursday that despite the announcement that the U.S. has cut military aid to Cameroon, relations between the two countries remain excellent.
Ambassador Peter Henry Barlerin met with Cameroon’s government spokesman Rene Emmanuel Sadi a day after the U.S. said it’s cutting military aid to Cameroon over human rights concerns after growing allegations of abuses by security forces
“We are not going to stop security cooperation with Cameroon. We have our differences, Cameroon is a sovereign country and the United States is a sovereign country,” Barlerin said. “Relations between Cameroon and the United states are excellent and longstanding and we aim to continue that relationship.”
Cameroon is a key U.S. security partner. Some 300 U.S. troops are based in the northern town of Garoua to train and assist the Cameroonian military, including in its fight against extremism in the country’s far northern region.
Cameroon’s government has not commented on the move by the U.S.
The Pentagon and State Department said the reduced U.S. support involves armored vehicles, boats, aircraft upkeep and parts, helicopter training and an invitation to a partnership program.
The U.S. decision comes after videos circulated online last year showing Cameroonian security forces shooting and killing civilians, including women with small children strapped to their backs. The videos were verified by Amnesty International and other global media outlets.
The top U.S. diplomat for Africa said in December that he feared a separatist crisis in the central African nation could get “much, much” worse and warned against a “brutal response” to extremism. Cameroon also faces a threat from Boko Haram fighters based in neighboring Nigeria.
Businessman Eric Njowir welcomed the decision by the U.S. saying that he hopes other countries will take similar action.
“What the military has been doing is against human rights and human freedoms,” said Njowir. “I wish other countries could step in and do the same (as the U.S.) so as to make the government realize its actions are against our rights and freedom.”
In addition to the U.S., other countries that help Cameroon militarily include Israel, France, Germany and China.
The United Nations has said some 430,000 people in Cameroon’s Southwest and Northwest regions have fled the fighting between security forces and English-speaking separatists who seek independence from the largely French-speaking country.
The growing concerns have posed a challenge for 85-year-old President Paul Biya, who is one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders. He became president in 1982 and won another term in October’s election, after which the military launched fresh offensives against the separatists.
Biya has ordered investigations into the shootings shown in the videos and some people have been arrested, government spokesman Issa Tchiroma Bakary has said.
In the past, Cameroon’s government has denied such killings by security forces as they combat Boko Haram, whose fighters have spilled over the border into the Far North region and carried out bombings and other attacks.
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