DOUALA, Cameroon (Reuters) – Separatist rebels fired on a Cameroon Airlines passenger jet as it approached Bamenda airport in the northwest of the country on Sunday morning, their leader told Reuters.
The scheduled flight from Douala landed safely and there were no casualties, Cameroon Airlines said in a statement confirming the attack. The airline has grounded the plane while it assesses the damage.
“Thanks to the bravery of the captain, the aircraft was able to land smoothly despite the impact on its fuselage,” it said.
The English-speaking west of Cameroon has been a battleground since 2017 between the army and rebels seeking to form a breakaway state called Ambazonia.
Civilians have been caught up in the conflict from the start. More than 400 people have been killed and half a million have been forced to flee their homes.
However, Sunday’s incident appeared to mark an escalation in the danger they face travelling to and from the richly forested region.
Cho Ayaba, one of the separatist leaders and president of the Ambazonian Council, said that commercial planes were being used to transport soldiers and weapons and he had warned Cameroon Airlines and its passengers that planes will be shot at if they do not provide flight schedules ahead of time.
“If we cannot confirm, we will consider all planes coming in as a security risk,” he said. “This is war.”
What began as peaceful protests in the southwest, calling for greater powers for English speakers in the largely French-speaking country, have degenerated into near daily violence.
Despite tentative efforts to sue for peace, fighting has continued, with both sides accused of atrocities, including the use of bombs and kidnappings by separatists and indiscriminate killings by the armed forces. [nL8N23N0FB]
Writing by Edward McAllister; Editing by Kevin Liffey and David Goodman