France says to continue military cooperation with Cameroon

PARIS (Reuters) - France said on Thursday its defense cooperation with Cameroon was continuing a day after the United States said it was halting some military assistance to the West African country over allegations of human rights violations by its security forces.

“France is bound by a defense partnership agreement that it conducts according to the international standards,” Foreign ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll said in a daily briefing with reporters.

“In accordance with international humanitarian law and the law of armed conflict, this cooperation is also intended to help Cameroon’s defense and security forces combat terrorism, especially against Boko Haram in the north of the country, while protecting the people. This cooperation continues.”

Cameroon has cooperated closely with the Western states in the fight against Islamist militant group Boko Haram in West and central Africa. But rights groups have accused authorities of using the fight against Boko Haram to crack down on political opponents, and make arbitrary arrests and torture people.

Authorities arrested opposition leader Maurice Kamto in January, accusing him of mobilizing dissent against President Paul Biya, who has ruled the country since 1982.

Biya has been accused by the opposition and rights groups of cracking down in two Anglophone regions to root out armed separatists vying for independence.

A State Department official on Wednesday said the United States’ decision to terminate some military programs and halt delivery of some equipment was to push Cameroon to show greater transparency in investigating credible allegations of gross violations of human rights security forces.

France, which has significant business interests in its former colony and relies on it to fight against Islamist militants, has been careful not to overly criticize the government’s handling of the crisis.

It has urged the Cameroonian government to engage in dialogue to stop an escalation in violence.

Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Bate Felix