Mali ‘suspend training’ ahead of Afcon opener after a gun battle near their base in Cameroon

Armed fighters have stormed a town in south west Cameroon close to the training base used by the Mali and Gambia teams at the Africa Cup of Nations.

The Mali team has suspended training prior to their match against Tunisia in nearby Limbe this afternoon, according to the Cameroon News Agency. Mali are due to play Tunisia in the opening game of Group F at the Afcon, this afternoon [Wednesday].

Brighton’s Yves Bissouma and Southampton’s Moussa Djenepo both play for Mali and Manchester United youngster Hannibal Mejbri, Arsenal’s Omar Rekik and Nottingham Forest’s Mohamed Drager are part of the Tunisia squad. 


Two people are reported to have died following an exchange of gunfire between separatists and government forces at the central market in the town of Buea and five people have been injured, say local reports.

The west of Cameroon has been racked by an escalating conflict between the local English-speaking population and the government of the largely French-speaking country.

Sportsmail reported last month how the tournament mascot, Mola the Lion, was forced to wear a bullet proof vest and was escorted by heavily armed soldiers when he visited the region to promote the competition.

Armoured vehicles and heavily manned army checkpoints have been prominent in the town in recent weeks, with security checks on entry points to nearby Limbe.

Africa Cup of Nations mascot, Mola the Lion, has worn a bullet-proof vest while touring western regions of Cameroon to promote the tournament because of widespread conflict

Brighton & Hove Albion’s Yves Bissouma is an important member of the Mali squad


‘The Malian team has suspended training and left the Molyko stadium,’ the Cameroon News Agency, reported today.

Separatists, who have objected to hosting games in the west of the country – an area they call Ambazonia – have threatened violence. They have claimed responsibility for the attacks.

One of the host cities, Limbe, is within the westernregion and just 13 miles from Buea.

‘Two civilians (men) have been found dead at the Buea Central market following exchanges of gunshots between Ambazonia and government forces,’ the local news agency added.

In a video posted online, armed men can be seen moving through the streets and there appears to be audible gunfire.

Separatists are using posters like this online to threaten football authorities and countries

Blaise Chamango, a human rights worker in Buea, for the organisation, Human is Right, told Sportsmail: ‘There were gun shots this morning around the town. We also got information there was an improvised explosive device at the market. The [separatist] groups and security forces were fighting in the area.

‘The non state groups want to create the impression that nothing should take place in the south west region [of Cameroon during the Afcon].’ 

The fighting in Buea comes amid an outbreak of violence coinciding with the opening of the Afcon in Cameroon. In a separate incident, a lawyer and senator, Harry Kemende, was reported to have been shot and killed in the neighbouring North West region. 

Six stadiums will host matches at the Afcon in Cameroon. Only one, Limbe, is located within the contested ‘anglophone zone’ but two more, Douala and Bafoussam are on the border

South West and North West regions of Cameroon make up the contested ‘anglophone zone’. The city of Buea (bottom left) has been the scene of much violence, with Limbe less than 13 miles to the south. Just across the border of the South West region is Douala (bottom of the map), which will also host matches. The North West region (centre to top of the map) has also seen extreme violence. Mola the mascot wore a bullet-proof vest while visiting the town of Bamenda. To the south of Bamenda is Bafoussam, another host city at the Afcon

Rebecca Tinsley, a representative of the Cameroon Peace and Justice Group, said the developments during the showpiece tournament were a concern, and described Mr Kemende as a ‘voice of moderation and peace’.

‘It is a sign of what is to come, this is just the beginning,’ said Ms Tinsley, whose group has verified reports in the country. ‘This is the moment the world is looking at Cameroon, we are very concerned.’

‘It has got to lead to the Government of Cameroon to offer a ceasefire and a roadmap towards peace negotiations. If only they would do that the tournament could carry on in peace.’ 

The conflict, in which armed groups are trying to form a breakaway state, has killed at least 3,000 people and forced nearly one million to flee. 

It began with peaceful protests in 2016, but following a heavy-handed response from the Government, an armed conflict developed a year later.

In the last 12 months, human rights groups say 80 explosive devices have been detonated in the region and there have been widespread calls not to stage matches in Limber, part of the contested area., known as the ‘anglophone zone’.


The conflict in the Central African country of Cameroon is largely hidden from international audiences.

In global terms, it is not a geopolitically significant dispute, but for the millions of people whose lives are blighted, ruined, or ended by the violence, it is defining.

Now international football has run into the fray and suddenly it takes on more significance in the wider world.

The problem crystalised in 2016. English-speaking areas of Cameroon (anglophone) felt they were marginalised by the French-speaking (francophone) majority.

The anglophone regions of the South West and North West, which the separatists call Ambazonia, account for about one fifth of the 20 million population.

They felt the Cameroon government under President Paul Biya, 88, who has ruled since 1982, was trying destroy their traditional education and legal system, which was based on English traditions and common law.

In 2016, lawyers and teachers protested peacefully but according to human rights organisations a heavy-handed government crushed their dissent.

The argument became radicalised. Now, there are multiple armed groups who claim to represent the western reaches of Cameroon. For four years conflict has intensified with militia targeting soldiers and policemen, but also civilians who do not demonstrably back them.

One move has been to demand schools remain closed to create leverage on the francophone government. Education is at the heart of the conflict.

As a result, most schools have been closed for years and 700,000 children have been deprived of an education, while Human Rights Watch has reported how student and teachers have been horribly abused, mutilated and killed.

But according to activists, the government has also committed atrocities and abuses. It has sent thousands of soldiers west, but they seem unable to stop the separatists and have not won the confidence of the locals.

The failure has resulted in 700,000 people fleeing from this corner of Africa, which is about to stage the continent’s Cup of Nations.

While human rights groups disagree on how best to manage Afcon, they are clear that the world needs to wake up to a cruel and devastating conflict, which they say, may also threaten the safety of some of Europe’s most famous footballers.