Cameroon has deployed troops to its port city of Douala, the country’s economic hub, to try to stem a wave of gang violence.
The insecurity has also disrupted Cameroon’s exports to its landlocked neighbors, the Central African Republic and Chad.
Cameroon’s President Paul Biya ordered the troops to Douala during two days of emergency security meetings that ended Wednesday.
Cameroon authorities have not given the number of troops deployed, but Douala residents told VOA they saw 13 military trucks on Tuesday night entering the port city.
Authorities say the troops were needed as police have been fighting daily conflicts with armed gangs in Doula since the beginning of the month.
Police say the clashes saw hundreds of youths arrested and forced some shops to close their doors during the normally bustling holiday season.
Several businesses remained closed Wednesday in Mboppi, a popular neighborhood in Douala.
Dress seller Evans Eboua, 37, said he wants the government to assure his safety before reopening his shop.
He said recent gang attacks in Douala are as dangerous as similar gang attacks he witnessed in 2017. Eboua said the gangs he saw in Mboppi were divided into two groups. He said the first group carried guns and machetes, chased civilians, and destroyed their shops and vehicles, while the second group looted.
Some locals blamed the spike in violence on unemployed youths and migrants from the Central African Republic and Nigeria.
Samuel Frank Mvondo, who imports motorcycles from China, said crime wave spikes in Douala happen because Nigerian economic migrants and people who fled political tensions in the CAR to earn a living in Cameroon’s coastal city and economic hub are unable to find jobs. Mvondo said the foreigners join unemployed university graduates who have not found government jobs and rely on motorcycle taxis to terrorize Douala residents.
Cameroon authorities did not say how many of those detained were foreigners. They said more than 15,000 Nigerians live in Douala, most of them selling motorcycle and vehicle spare parts.
The Association of Nigerian Businesspersons in Douala via state CRTV called on its members to be law abiding.
The Douala City Council said less than 5% of at least 30,000 motorcyclists in Douala are licensed to transport passengers.
Samuel Dieudonne Ivaha Diboua, the governor of the Littoral region, where Douala is located, issued an overnight curfew on motorcycles until further notice, saying most of the gang members use motorcycle taxis to attack at night. He said some of those arrested were cooperating with authorities.
Diboua said motorcyclists invited to the emergency security meeting acknowledged that most of their colleagues are either gang members or facilitate criminal activity by transporting gang members to and from crime sites. He said the government has ordered the deployment of troops to all strategic areas to make sure that business activity is smooth and that there is peace in Douala.
Cameroon police said the gangs have grounded many trucks in Douala destined for neighboring countries.
The landlocked Central African Republic, to the east of Cameroon, depends on Douala’s seaport for about 95% of its supplies.
Landlocked Chad on the northern border relies on Cameroon for 80% of its imports.
Authorities said the violence started three weeks ago when several hundred members of a gang called “Les Microbes” stormed Douala’s largest hospital, where a member was being treated for gunshot wounds.
The gang destroyed equipment and beat up hospital workers.
Authorities have called on civilians to cooperate with the military by reporting suspected gang members hiding in the community.