There was panic on Wednesday afternoon during the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Cameroon before the march between Mali and Tunisia following a gun battle between government forces and pro-independence fighters in Buea, capital of the restive Southern Cameroons.
One Cameroonian gendarme officer was reported dead, and five other people including a lawyer wounded.
According to a Cameroonian blog, Timescape, the incident occurred less than two miles away from the Molyko sports complex where the Malian National Team was training Wednesday.
The game, which ended with confusion, saw Mali winning 1-0.
Buea is the capital of the Southwest Region, which with the neighbouring North-West region is in the grip of violence sparked by a bid by Cameroon’s anglophone minority to secede from the French-majority country.
After years of frustration at perceived discrimination, separatists declared a “Federal Republic of Ambazonia” in October 2017.
Cameroon has been torn by violence since October 2017, when militants declared an independent state in the northwest and southwest, home to most of the anglophone minority in the majority French-speaking country.
Both the separatists and government forces have been accused of atrocities in the fighting, which has killed more than 3,000 people and forced over 700,000 to flee their homes.
The Cameroon government, however, assured players that “safety will be guaranteed” for AFCON.
The national human rights commission and a professor of public law, James Mouangue, clarified in an interview with AFP that the part of the country hosting Nigeria was relatively safe.
“The security measures put in place are exceptional, given the level of risk, and there were no problems when we hosted the African Nations Championship in January 2021,” he noted.
“I don’t think the jihadists can disrupt the Cup unless they carry out a really large attack, even though that remains a possibility,” said Guibai Gatama, editor of northern Cameroon’s leading twice-weekly publication, L’Oeil du Sahel (The Eye of the Sahel).
“The stadium in the North where Group D (comprising Egypt, Nigeria, Sudan and Guinea Bissau) will play is located in Garoua, which is very far from their sphere of operation.”
Armed groups are regularly accused of abducting, killing or injuring civilians whom they accuse of “collaborating” with Cameroonian authorities.