YAOUNDE, Feb. 23 (Xinhua) -- The 24th edition of Mount Cameroon Race, Africa's oldest international athletic competition, kicked off early Saturday in Buea, chief town of Southwest, one of the two English-speaking regions of the country torn by an armed conflict.
Close to 250 athletes from Cameroon, Azerbaijan, Central African Republic, Kenya, Nigeria, Niger and Zimbabwe are taking part in the race.
The race is taking place under tight security amidst threats from armed separatists to disrupt the event.
All sorts of activities in the town are not operational following an order from separatists who have promised "hell" to anybody who takes part in the race.
Since November 2017, government forces have been clashing with armed separatist forces who want the two Anglophone regions of in northwest and southwest to secede from the largely French-speaking nation and form a new country they called "Ambazonia".
Officials said in spite of the prevailing situation, the race must take place to strengthen Cameroon's unity and integrity.
"This edition of the race gives us the opportunity to further prove our desire of living together because in spite of linguistic and political diversity, the Cameroonian people are and must remain one and indivisible," Cameroon's Minister of Sports and Physical Education, Narcisse Mouelle Kombi told reporters at the start of the competition.
All safety measures have been put in place for the successful unfolding of the race, the region's governor, Bernard Okalia Bilai said.
The race dubbed Race of Hope is of a particularly difficult terrain with athletes going up and down the mountain which is over 4,100 metres above sea level. The first athlete is expected to arrive by 11:00 a.m. local time.