A court in the United States has jailed a man caught smuggling weapons to separatists in Cameroon.
Eric Fru Nji a US citizen, originally from the English-speaking region of Cameroon, was handed a five year sentence by a court in the US state of Maryland.
Nji, 42, and nine others were charged with illegally transporting firearms with obliterated serial numbers. They intended to smuggle them in shipping containers to Nigeria.
From Nigeria, the weapons were to be taken across the border to be used by terrorist groups waging a war against the Cameroonian government.
But investigators in the US discovered the guns and ammunition hidden in shipments of workshop equipment.
U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett sentenced Nji to over 63 months in federal prison, followed by two years of supervised release.
He is also ordered to pay a fine of $25,000. Nji was convicted of those charges in May 2022, along with co-defendants Wilson Nuyila Tita and Wilson Che Fonguh, after a two-week trial.
For the past six years, the government of Cameroon has been fighting an insurgency against separatist terror groups in the Northwest and Southwest regions of the country.
Cameroonians living in the US have been funding and equipping the separatists, the government of Paul Biya says.
The Cameroonian government has called on countries hosting those influencing separatist fighters to intervene and investigate them.
Separatists want to build a country out of the two English-speaking regions of Cameroon. The conflict began in 2016 and has resulted in over 678000 people being displaced.
“Nji and his co-conspirators contributed funds for the purchase of firearms, ammunition, reloading materials and other equipment for shipping overseas to separatists fighting against the Government of Cameroon,” a statement from the US Department of Justice says.
The evidence at this trial further established that Nji and his co-conspirators secreted 38 firearms, most of which had serial numbers removed, in a shipping container that they sent to be shipped out of the Port of Baltimore in January of 2019.
“The guns included sniper rifles, SKS assault rifles (some with bayonets), other rifles and several handguns. There were 44 high-capacity magazines, two rifle scopes and over 35,000 rounds of ammunition”, said the report.
The jury heard that Nji and his co-conspirators put the weapons in duffle bags and heavily wrapped packages, and hid them inside the chambers of air compressor units.
These were put into a shipping container destined for Nigeria.
Nji and his co-conspirators communicated about their efforts and plans to ship weapons and ammunition using an on-line encrypted messaging application and code words in order to conceal their activities.
The other defendants charged in several related cases are awaiting sentencing.
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