- There is growing evidence of a targeted campaign against the semi-nomadic M'bororo people in the Central African Republic, where around 10,000 are reported to have fled to Cameroon. While some sources speak of groups of looting bandits scaring off the M'bororos, others claim to have evidence of a targeted campaign of "ethnic cleansing" by local militias.
The M'bororo - also known as "Bush Fulanis" - are the nomadic and semi-nomadic "cousins" of the Fulani/Foulbe people, driving their herds through vast parts of the central Sahel. Entering what is now Cameroon and the Central African Republic from the west in the late 18th century, the M'bororo were the first cattle herders and Muslims in that region, trading with local farming communities.
During the last decades, however, scarcer land resources have caused attacks on M'bororo societies in Nigeria, Cameroon and now also in the western part of the Central African Republic. There are still few sources on this new conflict, but human rights groups, refugee observers and UN personnel agree that the attacks already have caused thousands of people to leave their homes.
According to the Germany-based Society for Threatened Peoples (GFBV), "more than 10,000 M'bororo nomads and Muslim farmers of the Fulani people ... have fled westwards from the Central African Republic to neighbouring Cameroon and Nigeria since January 2005." The German human rights group, which does not reveal its sources, warns of possible "ethnic cleansing in the Central African Republic."
The Central African M'bororos were "fleeing from militias, which are intimidating the population with nightly attacks and abductions," says Ulrich Delius of GFBV in a recent statement. "The attackers are equipped with lists of the names of all the villagers and have already kidnapped more than 1000 children to extort a ransom from their relatives," Mr Delius adds.
The M'bororo nomads, famed for their relative wealth in the Central African Republic, mostly achieve the liberation of their children by paying a ransom of around US$ 2000, which they can only finance by selling their entire cattle herd.
According to the GFBV, this has already caused large parts of the local M'bororo population to lose all their economic assets. Fearing new attacks, the families flee to neighbouring Cameroon, most of them after having lost their livelihood to the armed militias. "Poverty and famine" was threatening them upon arrival in Cameroon, the group holds.
While the GFBV speaks of "more than 10,000" M'bororo refugees in Cameroon, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) in a recent report operates with somewhat lower numbers. "Bandits and former combatants have engaged in killings, kidnappings for ransom and looting of the civilian population" had sent "around 3,000 cattle-herders fleeing to Cameroon in April 2005, and causing internal displacement there too," the NRC sums up.
Also Jacques Franquin, the representative of the UN's refugee agency UNHCR in Cameroon, last month confirmed there were massive attacks on the M'bororo population on the Cameroonian side of the border. Mr Franquin told the press in April there had been registered some 3,000 Central African Republic refugees and about 15,000 internally displaced Cameroonians in Adamawa province - most being M'bororos of Fulanis.
The NRC and Mr Franquin however did not indicate any particular motives behind the attacks on the M'bororo population, saying the perpetrators were armed bandits and ex-rebels taking advantage of the unprotected wealth of the herders. The UN representative urged Cameroonian and Central African authorities to improve the security situation and intensify border controls.
All sources agree that most of the bandits behind the attacks were former rebel fighters of newly elected Central African President François Bozizé, whose rebels with Chadian help overthrew the Bangui government in a coup in March 2003. General Bozizé's rebels had been based in the region which is now becoming lawless.
As Mr Bozizé has failed to pay off his former fighters, most sources speculate that the rebels' looting of the western part of the country is discretely approved by the Bangui leadership. There have been no reports of attempts by central authorities to stop the attacks on the M'bororo and Fulani population in the region.
The Muslim M'bororo - who make up about 5 percent of the national population - for years have claimed to be discriminated in the predominantly Christian country. Playing a preponderant role in the economy of the northern and western part of the Central African Republic, the M'bororo and Fulani have singled out for harassment by authorities, including extortion by police, due to popular resentment of their presumed affluence, according to the US State Department.
The more populous M'bororo societies in Cameroon and Nigeria are also experiencing increasing attacks from other parts of society. In parts of Nigeria, Christian farmers have attacked and killed several M'bororos in clashes attributed to land rights. In northern and western Cameroon, M'bororos have been driven from their lands by influential ranchers and political activists have been thrown into prison.
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