By Josiane Kouagheu
YAOUNDE (Reuters) – Cameroon’s government said on Friday it would investigate a video that Amnesty International said shows security forces shooting at least a dozen unarmed people in the Far North of the country where they are battling Islamist militants.
Amnesty said in a statement it had verified the video through witness testimony, satellite imagery and analysis of the weapons, dialogue and uniforms. It said the video was shot in the village of Achigaya at an unknown date prior to May 2016.
The nearly four-minute video has circulated on social media in recent days. A government spokesman said it was released to undermine President Paul Biya ahead of an election in October.
At the start of the video, several men in military fatigues with automatic-style weapons joke among themselves, with one saying in French: “This is a kamikaze mission.”
The men then open fire for roughly 12 seconds on about a dozen people sitting or lying down against a wall and under guard.
After the firing stops, one of the armed men approaches the motionless bodies and fires several more times from point-blank range.
Around them, several buildings in the village are in flames and gunfire can be heard in the background.
“Here is yet more credible evidence to support the allegations that Cameroon’s armed forces have committed grave crimes against civilians,” Ilaria Allegrozzi, Amnesty International’s Lake Chad Researcher, said.
Government spokesman Issa Tchiroma Bakary said that authorities would open an investigation into the video but said the government was the victim of a “campaign of denigration” ahead of the election, when Biya will try to extend his 36-year rule.
“We are in an electoral period and it’s conducive to this kind of thing. People want to discredit the army and president,” Tchiroma told Reuters.
Cameroonian authorities have said they are also investigating a video that surfaced last month that appears to shows men in military uniform shooting dead two women and two children.
But they have simultaneously dismissed that video as “fake news” meant to tarnish the government’s image.
The Cameroonian army’s elite Rapid Intervention Brigade (BIR) has been battling Nigerian militant group Boko Haram in the country’s extreme north since late 2014.
Since then, the militants have killed hundreds of people in the Far North and their tactics have included the use of child suicide bombers to attack checkpoints, market places and mosques.
The group has killed tens of thousands of people in northern Nigeria since 2009 when it launched an insurgency to create an Islamic caliphate. At the peak of its strength in early 2015, it held territory around the size of Belgium before being weakened by a multi-national military coalition.
Last year, Amnesty accused Cameroonian forces involved in the campaign of torturing suspected militants on a base used by American troops. Cameroon’s government denied the accusations and the U.S. military said it had not received reports of abuse.
(Additional reporting and writing by Aaron Ross; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)