May 30, 2014
An assault on a Chinese road-building camp in northern Cameroon is the latest in a series of regional attacks on Chinese workers and facilities. The camp with 52 staff was run by a Sinohydro engineering unit involved in road improvement as part of a joint World Bank/Cameroon government project. Close to the camp is an oil exploration site run by Yan Chang Logone Development Holding Company, a subsidiary of China’s Yanchang Petroleum (Reuters, May 20). The exploration group is working in the Logone-Birni basin in north Cameroon.
The night-time attack, believed to have been the work of Nigeria’s Boko Haram movement, overcame resistance from a much-diminished Cameroonian guard force before the attackers seized ten Chinese employees, wounded another and lifted ten Sinohydro vehicles as well as blasting equipment used in road construction (Xinhua, May 18). China has expressed concern over the possibility of military action to rescue the hostages: “We urge the Cameroonian authorities not to put the lives of the Chinese nationals missing in danger if actions to liberate them are launched” (China Daily/Xinhua, May 19). France quickly offered its assistance to China in finding the ten missing workers (AFP, May 18).
Cameroon’s New Chinese-made Tank Destroyers on Parade, May 20, 2014 (IHS-Jane’s)
The timing of the attack appears to have been well-planned, coming as most of the camp’s guard from the elite Brigade d’intervention rapide (BIR) was in Yaoundé preparing to take part in a military parade marking Cameroon’s national day on May 20 (This Day [Lagos], May 17). Pursuit by Cameroonian air assets was also impossible as the helicopters normally deployed to the frontier region were also in the capital for the military parade (AFP, May 18). Ironically, the parade’s highlight was Cameroon’s newly acquired Chinese armor, including two platoons of Type 07P infantry fighting vehicles (equipped with a 30 mm gun and a coaxial 7.62 mm machine gun) and three platoons of PTL-102-type armored tank destroyers (equipped with a 105 mm gun). The new armored vehicles are part of Cameroon’s Bataillon Blindé de Reconnaissance (BBR – Armored Reconnaissance Battalion) (Cameroon Tribune, May 21; IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, May 21). On May 26, the BIR returned north to the Nigerian frontier along with some of Cameroon’s new Chinese-built armored vehicles. The force of roughly 1,000 troops is expected to join 700 other troops already deployed to the frontier region in March to combat Boko Haram (Reuters, May 27).
The attack also came at the same time Cameroonian president Paul Biya was in Paris attending the “Paris Summit for Security in Nigeria” with high-level representatives from Nigeria, Chad, Niger, Benin, the UK, France and the United States. Cameroon has committed to joining Nigeria, Benin, Niger and Chad in contributing one battalion each of troops dedicated to combatting Boko Haram (Vanguard [Lagos], May 20). An existing joint force of troops from Nigeria, Niger and Chad has been largely ineffective in halting cross-border violence. Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan recently complained that Nigerian forces are unable to pursue Boko Haram forces when they cross the border without getting special permission from Yaoundé (Daily Trust [Lagos], May 19). Cameroon is now in the process of creating military bases in all ten regions of the country to improve local security as regional conditions deteriorate (Cameroon Post, May 18).
On the same night as the raid on the Chinese camp, gunmen also looted a police armory in Waza National Park, where Boko Haram is believed to be responsible for the kidnapping of a French family of seven last year (the family was later released, though it was unclear whether a ransom was paid). The attackers also destroyed a bridge linking different communities in the area, a tactic likely designed to inhibit the movement of security forces in the area. Several weeks earlier, Boko Haram attacked a military post 37 miles from the town of Waza to free a detained member (VOA, May 17). Waza is only 12 miles from the Nigerian border and the Sambisi Forest, a main base for Boko Haram and the suspected origin of the attacking force.
The Chinese operations in northern Cameroon are part of China’s rapidly expanding role in Cameroon’s economy. China is now Cameroon’s number one customer for exports and became that nation’s second-largest oil producer in 2011 after Sinopec purchased former Shell interests in Cameroon, uniting with Cameroon’s National Hydrocarbon Corporation as a junior partner in the newly formed Addax Petroleum Cameroon Company (APCC).  China has also become a major arm supplier for Cameroon and is currently building two ships for use by the Cameroon Navy.
1. John Daly, “Cameroon, West Africa’s Latest Oil Battleground,” March 25, 2012, http://oilprice.com/Energy/Crude-Oil/Cameroon-West-Africas-Latest-Oil-Battleground.html
This article was published in the May 30, 2014 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.