“Last week, 50 to 70 Cameroonian soldiers came to (the village of) Danare to tell us our village (in Cameroon) was safe now and that we could go back home,” said Tony Kajang, a 22-year-old displaced Cameroonian.
Other Cameroonians who have fled to the southeast Nigerian state of Cross River and a local resident in Danare also confirmed the soldiers’ presence.
But they said the forces were not on a military operation.
The head of Cross River state emergency management agency, John Inaku, also said the troops were in Danare, in the Boki area of the state, early on Monday.
“There were people coming in from the neighbouring country. It is not the first time. The first time was in (the district of) Ekang in December,” he told AFP.
A police source in the southeast Nigerian state said only: “Yes, it’s true. There were men on the ground.”
Thousands of Cameroonians have fled to the remote border region from violence in English-speaking southwest Cameroon, which abuts Nigeria.
Media on both sides of the frontier on Wednesday reported that some 80 Cameroonian gendarmes had been in Danare.
According to Nigeria’s daily The Punch, they were targeting suspected anglophone separatists among the influx.
Cross River state security adviser Jude Ngaji was quoted as saying: “The issue has gone beyond the police and the Nigerian army has just deployed a battalion to the area.”
– Independence bid –
Cameroon’s government is fighting an insurgency by a group demanding a separate state for two western regions that are home to most of the country’s anglophones, who account for about a fifth of the population.
On October 1 last year, the breakaway movement issued a symbolic declaration of independence for “Ambazonia,” their name for the putative state.
Cameroon’s president, Paul Biya, has met the agitation with a crackdown, including curfews, raids and restrictions on travel.
Around 30,000 people have fled into Nigeria.
Despite their military collaboration against Boko Haram Islamists in northeast Nigeria and northern Cameroon, the two countries have long had tense relations.
For years, the neighbours staked claims to the oil-rich Bakassi peninsula until an International Court of Justice ruling ceded it to Cameroon in 2002.
Nigeria is also facing an independence movement from pro-Biafran supporters in the southeast but Abuja has moved closer to Yaounde in recent weeks.
On Monday, the head of the Ambazonia separatist movement, Sisiku Ayuk Tabe, who was arrested in the Nigerian capital in early January, was extradited with 46 of his supporters.
Amnesty International has expressed concern about the fate of the arrested separatists — whom Yaounde has called “terrorists” — saying they could face torture and an unfair trial in Cameroon.
Nigeria, which said in December that it “saw eye to eye” with Yaounde regarding the crisis but denied harbouring the separatists, finally handed them over following closed-door negotiations.
“It’s a real blow by the Cameroonian authorities,” political scientist Mathias Eric Owona Nguini, a researcher at Cameroon’s Paul Ango Ela Foundation. “They managed to capture a big part of the (separatist) leadership.”
However Hans De Marie Heungoup, a researcher at the International Crisis Group, told AFP that Biya “should quickly initiate a political dialogue on federalism or decentralisation (or) it’s possible that the Anglophone side will be radicalised even further and the current cycle of violence will escalate.”
Cameroon’s communications minister, Issa Tchiroma Bakary, this week congratulated what he saw was the “excellent cooperation” between Abuja and Yaounde in terms of security.
He also said both countries would “never allow their territory to act as bases for destabilising activities against the other”.