A resurgence of tit-for-tat violence between herders and farmers has killed at least 22 people and injured more than 30 others this week in Cameroon’s Far North region, a regional government official said on Thursday, prompting residents to flee to Chad.
“We are in a full-on inter-community conflict,” said the Cameroonian regional official, who asked not to be named.
Hundreds of people fleeing the violence between Arab Choa herders and Mousgoum and Massa farmers have streamed across the border into neighbouring Chad, the mayor of Chad’s capital N’Djamena, Ali Haroun, told Reuters.
A traditional leader in northern Cameroon, who asked not to be named, told Reuters the violence began over access to water.
“The Arab Choa wanted to take their herds to the banks of a river. The Mousgoum and Massa prevented them,” the leader said.
“This problem needs to be resolved quickly because a few months ago, there were already deaths. Today, when there is a problem between two people from different communities, all the communities get involved with weapons,” the leader said.
The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) which is responding to the crisis, said in a November report that scant rainfall had dried up rivers and seasonal ponds that communities depend on, leading to clashes in the area.
A UNHCR official in the Cameroonian town of Kousseri acknowledged the conflict between the parties, saying the agency has been responding to the crisis after clashes in August and helped the government organize a reconciliation meeting last week.
She said 40 villages involved in the conflict participated but that on Saturday, an Arab Choa herder tried to take his herd to the river and was prevented by farming communities, triggering a fight between the farmers and herders.
On Thursday, she said the Kousseri town of around 90,000 was empty, but that the situation remained tense as armed community members regrouped.
“The fighting in Kousseri has been very violent. We had to cross the river at night to find refuge here,” said Florent Mbang, who fled from Cameroon to a refugee camp in N’Djamena.
“Our children have not eaten since yesterday, we ask the Chadian authorities to help us, otherwise our situation here will be worse than the conflict we have at home,” he said.
Similar violence in August between Choa herders and Mousgoum fishermen killed dozens of people and forced thousands to flee to Chad.
Chad’s President Mahamat Idris Deby said on Twitter late on Wednesday that over 30,000 Cameroonians had sought refuge in Chad, but did not specify if they were all from the latest wave of violence.
He urged the international community to provide prompt aid to help Chad deal with the situation.