Elite Cameroon troops have attacked and looted a UNESCO-recognised palace in the Anglophone west of the country, attacking princes and princesses in the process, according to local king Abumbi II.
“Soldiers forcibly entered the palace, coming over the fence” in last month”s attack, the king said in a letter to the regional governor, seen by AFP.
“They invaded the queens” quarters and submitted princes and princesses to brutal, inhumane treatment, “he added.
On Friday, Human Rights Watch group (HRW) confirmed the attack in a statement.
“On September 24, soldiers from the Rapid Intervention Battalion (BIR) attacked and looted the Royal Palace in Bafut, North-West region…. included on a Tentative List of World Heritage Sites since 2006 by UNESCO,” the rights group said.
“They shot and wounded the Fon”s (king”s) brother before looting the palace museum and taking several precious artefacts, including a bronze mask from the 18th century and golden necklaces,” it added.
The military operation lasted for three hours and occurred during a traditional ceremony with more than 200 people.
At least 10 elite BIR soldiers took part in the attacked with witnesses suggesting they ay have suspected anglophone separatists were hiding out there.
English speakers account for about a fifth of Cameroon”s population of 24 million.
They are mainly concentrated in the Northwest and Southwest regions, where they complain of discrimination and marginalisation, especially in education, the judiciary and economic opportunities.
A move aimed at easing the bloody crisis in Cameroon”s English-speaking regions has gained traction among moderates but failed to overcome a roadblock of resistance by radical separatists.
King Abumbi, who has multiple wives, said “many princes were injured in the attack” including one who needed hospital treatment.
The regional governor”s office said that an inquiry had been opened.
“More than buildings and precious objects, the Bafut Palace is a piece of Cameroon”s history and a key element of its cultural identity. In the current unrest in the Anglophone regions, belligerents should make sure that this cultural heritage is protected,” Human Rights Watch said.
The Cameroon army has not commented on the reports.
The International Crisis Group has estimated that nearly 3,000 people have been killed in violence committed by both sides and more than half a million people have fled their homes.