Thousands of people marched in Cameroon's capital Yaounde on Saturday to protest against Nigeria's Boko Haram insurgency and support the central African nation's army, which is fighting alongside its neighbors in the region to defeat the armed group.
Organizers said the march was aimed at informing the public, especially in the southern part of Cameroon, about the threat posed by Boko Haram, which has carried out regular cross-border raids in the far north. Yaounde is located in the central region of the country.
"It was important to tell Cameroonians that we are at war and a part of the country is suffering," said Gubai Gatama, a newspaper editor, who was among the march's organizers. "About 150,000 people have been displaced by the conflict."
In addition to its own citizens forced to flee the violence, thousands of refugees have poured into Cameroon from northeastern Nigeria, where Boko Haram is seeking to carve out a separate state. "Some 170 schools in Cameroon's northern region have been closed," Gatama said.
Boko Haram's six-year insurgency in Nigeria has spread to neighboring countries, where the group has launched attacks over the past year, burning villages and kidnapping residents.
The other Lake Chad region nations threatened by Boko Haram — Cameroon, Niger and Chad — have launched a joint offensive to quell the rebellion and claim to have retaken territory from group in recent weeks.
Muhamadou Labara Awal, 27, was among those who marched in Yaounde, chanting and waving the flags of the regional coalition. "It was important for me to be here because I'm not a soldier to be deployed to Fotokol,” Awal said, referring to a northern town regularly targeted by Boko Haram. “The only way I could pay homage to our troops was to be here."
Organizers estimated the march attracted about 5,000 people.
The solidarity march was also to discourage Cameroonian youths from joining Boko Haram, said journalist Ndi Eugene Ndi.
About 200 Cameroonian soldiers have been killed in the fighting, according to the demonstration's organizers.
"Our children, our brothers, our parents giving their lives up there (in northern Cameroon), giving their lives for our sake, it is important, very, very important to come out to show our support for them," said Buma Yvonne, who lost his younger brother in the battle against Boko Haram.