Yesterday a Camair Xian MA60 was hit twice by gunfire fired by separatist rebels as it approached Bamenda Airport in Cameroon. Although the damage to the aircraft was minimal and there were no injuries, the incident signifies the escalating tensions which have killed more than 3,000 people in Cameroon since 2017.
Yesterday, Cameroon Airlines flight QC-292 from Douala to Bamenda was fired upon as it came into land at Bamenda Airport. Reports by Reuters suggest that the aircraft involved in the incident, a Camair Xian MA60, has been grounded awaiting a more detailed assessment of the damage it sustained.
The incident raises some serious questions over security in the region as the conflict between separatists and state forces continues.
What has been going on in Cameroon?
Cameroon’s internal conflict has been ongoing since 2017, but it has been largely unreported in the west. Known as the Anglophone Crisis or the Ambazonia War, the conflict emerged between Cameroon’s French and English-speaking populations.
French is Cameroon’s main language, being understood by 80% of the country’s population. Meanwhile, the country’s English-speaking population is a minority. The majority of this English-speaking population lives in Southern Cameroons, a region in the southwest of the country near the border with Nigeria.
Over the past couple of years, tensions have flared between the government and the English-speaking population in Southern Cameroons.
The English-speaking population in Southern Cameroon claim that they are increasingly being marginalized and having their rights eroded in favor of French speakers. Back in 2016 widespread protests among the English-speaking population in Southern Cameroons began.
However, they quickly escalated into an organized insurgency which has so far killed more than 3,000 people and displaced over half a million from affected areas. Separatists are now seeking independence for the English-speaking regions, historically been called Ambazonia.
The conflict has been active for more than two years now and, as shown by yesterday’s incident, only appears to be getting worse.
Bad news for aviation in the region
As shown by a number of high-profile incidents over recent years, active conflict zones pose a huge risk to commercial aviation. In 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down by pro-Russia separatists in Eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board.
The leader of the separatist Ambazonian Council, Cho Ayaba, has given clear warnings to commercial airlines operating in the region. He has said, “If we cannot confirm, we will consider all planes coming in as a security risk.”
The Ambazonian separatists claim that Cameroon Airlines has been transporting government soldiers and weapons as part of the ongoing effort to quell their independence movement.
As a result, Cho Ayaba has previously warned Cameroon Airlines that any flights which have not provided flight schedules prior to arrival will be shot at. It appears this may well have been the case in yesterday’s incident.
Simple Flying has reached out to Cameroon Airlines with a request for comment on the incident, but the airline has not yet been available to respond.