By Andrew Nsoseka
The population of Mutengene was again thrown into consternation and mourning when, on Wednesday, September 11 morning, at about 7.05 am, a farm was invaded by soldiers who opened fire on a family, as they shared a meal in preparation to start work.
Another farmer in a separate farm was also shot and killed.
The act, said to have been carried out by Government troops, left three children dead and their father wounded in a locality called France. Those killed were 11, 14, and 16 years old and another elderly person. A 5th victim, the father of the children, survived the shooting as he dashed to the bushes and succeeded to limp away after the bullet aimed at him rather got him on the leg.
For details of what transpired, we visited the bereaved and grieving family who narrated the story. Eyewitnesses on nearby farms also gave their own accounts.
The lone survivor of the incident, a man aged 50 was being comforted by friends and neighbours.
“They should have killed me and let my children go. Look at the house; it was constructed for them (he pointed at an edifice nearing completion). Who will live there? My three boys killed in one day?” he sobbed.
Approached for his account of what happened, the sobbing man said: “I have nothing to say, they should have killed me and not my children. I don’t want to talk. The story is already on social media. Talking can’t bring back my children. Look at my leg; it was shattered by a bullet. Was the President not on TV a day before saying that there should be dialogue? Why could he not also ask his soldiers to stop shooting? I am not a politician, I am a farmer…”
After several attempts to get details, the man narrated how he and his family were about to start work on their farm that day at about 7.00am. They first settled to eat.
“They came to a neighbouring farm and killed my neighbour using a gun with a silencer, before approaching my farm. If they had used the gun they used on my family, we would have escaped. We had sat down to eat before beginning work. I discovered that the food was not enough, so I went into the farmhouse to boil some plantains alongside the snails I had prepared. As I bent down to put a pot of snails on fire, I heard deafening gunshots behind me. I ran away, and after a long-distance, I became weak and stopped running. I felt as if I was drunk. It was then that I discovered that blood was oozing from my leg. That was when I discovered that I had been shot.
“I came across friends and told them that my family might have been killed. I was weak and couldn’t walk, so they asked me to stay back while they went to my farm to check on the children. They said if the soldiers were still there, they could run, since they were strong. As they moved, I couldn’t stay back, so I broke a young cocoa plant, which I used as a walking stick. I had torn my T-shirt which I used to tie my leg in order to reduce blood flow from the gun wound. As I approached from far, I heard my wife crying.
It appears that when the soldiers discovered that they had carried out a dirty job, they left. They opened my waste bag and removed my phone from it. So when my younger brother heard of the incident, he started calling, a soldier picked the call and spoke in French. He dropped the call and called back, they picked the call and spoke in French again, so he stopped calling.
“The oldest of the children was 16, the second was 14, and the third was 11. The children were killed with food in their mouths, as they were eating. I have nothing to hide, the DO was called and one of my educated sons explained what had happened to him, he called the police station and they too called Limbe. Limbe claimed that they had not sent soldiers on such a mission.
“When I met the Commander in Mutengene, he asked me to first go to the hospital, I gave my National ID card, and the ages of the children, he showed his Assistant and said, “these were children”. The population alongside over 50 bikers came out under the rain in solidarity,” he narrated.
Another farmer in his late 20s narrated how he was working in his farm, alongside his wife and dog.
“It appears they (soldiers) had surrounded the farm and were waiting in the bushes. As I worked, I heard deafening shots; I have never heard such since the beginning of this war. I was with my wife, I asked her to hide in a different location. After running, I climbed on a tall mango tree, so that the leaves could hide me. I spent a whole day on the tree. I was very hungry. There was food in the farmhouse but I could not go down from the tree because I was scared. After spending a long day on the tree, I came down, and went to look for my wife, where she too was still hiding. I whistled and it was only when she recognised my voice that she came out of her hiding place. She too was weak. She had not eaten and was overwhelmed by the shooting too”.
Another farmer said it was thanks to one of his sons, who is a slow eater, that they were spared from the gruesome murders.
“We sat down to eat and everyone finished except one of my sons who is a slow eater. My wife kept urging him to eat fast. I told her to let the boy eat at his pace and to his fill, so that when we start working, he should not complain of hunger. That delayed us for about five to 10 minutes. If not of this, we could have been on the farm when the shooting started. We were just about five minutes from the farm when we heard the gunshots,” he stated.
The recent incident in Mutengene is one among many where farmers have been killed on their farms by soldiers acting on ill-gotten intelligence or false alarm or, in some cases, out of their decision. Soldiers have killed farmers or locals who were unsuspectingly going about their daily activities. Criticisms of such actions have often fallen on deaf ears, as many still continue to die even under circumstances where soldiers could use simple common sense to decipher that those they are about to kill are not the Separatist fighters they are hunting.