Breaking News - Cameroon Army Deployed To Deliver Vote To Restive Area

Lysoka (Cameroon) (AFP) - "We're at risk of a separatist attack," warned an army officer from the detachment of troops charged with delivering voting material to Lysoka in the heart of Cameroon's anglophone insurgency.

The country's Elecam electoral commission has faced a struggle to stage Sunday's nationwide presidential vote in areas of the northwest and southwest where an anglophone insurgency against French-speaking President Paul Biya is raging.

Lysoka, a village in the southwest surrounded by rubber plantations near regional capital Buea, ultimately did not receive a ballot box ahead of the vote. The army and Elecam judged it to be too "dangerous".

"Pack up the kit, we'll set up the voting booth in Muea," a district on the outskirts of Buea, said the officer after speaking to his colonel on the phone.
The convoy that deployed to Lysoka, which failed to deliver election materials after a three-hour journey, was made up of an armoured car equipped with a heavy machine gun.
Just before the order to move on, several soldiers took off for a nearby building site after receiving word that a suspected separatist was in their midst.

"This area is dangerous. It's calm but it can erupt at any moment," a police officer said.

"We're very close to Ekona," one of the largest separatist bastions, he said.

The convoy that deployed to Lysoka, which failed to deliver election materials after a three-hour journey, was made up of an armoured car equipped with a heavy machine gun.

- 'Too much confusion' -

It was followed by a military lorry carrying the ballot boxes and voting papers as well as young recruits to manage voting.

Another truck as well as several pick-up trucks full of soldiers followed behind.

The convoy left Buea early but made slow progress as vehicles got bogged down en route.

In Mwangai, halfway to Lysoka, a ballot box was installed in front of the home of the hamlet's chief, but that too was taken down.

"We didn't plan to position anything here. This polling station isn't on the list that was given to us," said a soldier, who added that ballot boxes could not be installed without a minimum level of security.
"Our job is to guarantee the safety of the people and the equipment from the beginning to the end of the process," he added.

"There's too much confusion. We've been available to Elecam for two months -- they should have organised this operation to deliver voting material better," chimed in another soldier.

- 'Come specially from London' -

Because of a separatist threat to disrupt Sunday's polls, Elecam decided to distribute the necessary items to polling stations on the day of the vote.

But by 10 am local time, two hours after polling stations opened elsewhere, the materials had still not been delivered to several voting centres.

"The operation is totally safe. The army has secured all the polling stations," insisted Guy Roger Ahanda, a Buea voting official.

But gunfire was heard in the town ahead of the polls and a vehicle belonging to the state-run Cameroon Tribune came under fire, according to credible sources.

Police and soldiers outnumbered civilians in the streets and voting was slow at downtown polling stations.

By 11 am, just 10 people had cast ballots at the voting centre installed in local government offices.

"I've come specially from London to vote. It's an important thing for me because after 36 years, we need change," said Samira Edi before she cast her ballot, referring to Biya's three-and-a-half decades in power.

Many election watchers expect record abstentions in this year's poll.

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