Cameroon Holds Presidential Election During Separatist Violence

Cameroonians have been going to the polls to elect their new president from a list of eight contenders, including the 86-year old President Paul Biya who has ruled the central African state for 36 years. He is widely expected to be reelected. Fighting between armed separatists and the military has killed at least six people in the English speaking regions.

Among the voters in Yaounde choosing Cameroon's leader for the next seven years is 50-year old driver Christian Ngaba, who says incumbent President Paul Biya convinced him he will solve the problems that have rocked the English speaking regions of the country for more than two years.

"It is an important thing for me to vote as a citizen of this country so that things should go normally and let us have peace, justice, and development," said Ngaba.

Every voter was not as lucky. Student Eric Agbor fled the English speaking southwestern town of Buea after fighting between government troops and armed separatists who vowed the election would not take place. He is living in Yaounde with a friend, but says he came out to vote for an opposition candidate and was told he could only vote in Buea where he registered.

"Joshua Osih has promised equal opportunities and enhancing development in the country, so I think he is the best candidate for me to vote for [but] it is difficult for me to go to southwest now given there is social unrest," he said.

Election security in the English speaking regions was tightened after violent battles in several towns and villages.

The governor of the southwest region, Bernard Okalia Bilai, says many terrorists were killed and several buildings and residences were set ablaze.

"In some areas, some terrorists tried to intimidate the population, but the defense forces reacted promptly and everything is going on." he said.

The government said at least two armed men were killed by the military in the English speaking northwestern town of Bamenda.

More than 200,000 people have been displaced because of violence in the English-speaking regions, with many towns deserted.

Election observers, including the African Union, have said they will not work in the southwest or northwest because of the crisis.

But after voting, President Biya said he was happy peace was returning to troubled spots.

He says has performed his civic duty and is particularly satisfied the election is taking place in calm and serenity without fighting. He says voting for president should be an important act for all citizens and his wish is for calm when results are announced. He says he sees the Cameroonian people continue to give him their confidence.

Main opposition Social Democratic Front party candidate Joshua Osih called for transparency in vote counting.

Biya is expected to be re-elected as the fractured opposition has been unable to rally behind a strong challenger.

Cameroon law says results are to be proclaimed within 15 days of the poll.

Protests in the English speaking regions began two years ago by teachers and lawyers against what they said was their marginalization by majority French speakers and turned deadly after a government crackdown.

Source: Voice of America

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