YAOUNDE, Feb. 23 (Xinhua) -- Winner of the 24th edition of Mount Cameroon Race, Africa's oldest international athletic competition, on Saturday said, the country needs "compassion and understanding" to solve the problems plaguing war-torn two English-speaking regions of the country.
"I am very pleased to win the race. It was difficult for me to come here because of insecurity. I am calling on everyone in the Northwest and Southwest regions to show compassion and understanding in solving the problems facing our country," Eric Mbacha, winner of the race told Xinhua immediately after crossing the final line.
Mbacha who comes from Mbot, a village in Cameroon's Northwest region, where fighting between armed separatists and government forces is intense said, he had to escape from his village to prepare for the race.
"The situation was so difficult that I had to leave the village to train for the race in Foumbot (a Francophone town). I hope that my victory will bring joy to those who are in distress because of the conflict," he said.
The race took place in Buea, chief town of Southwest, one of the two English-speaking regions of Cameroon torn by an armed conflict.
There was tight security amidst threats from armed separatists to disrupt the event.
Local residents interviewed by Xinhua said, "sporadic" gunshots were heard in parts of the city as the race was unfolding.
"We heard gunshots in about four neighborhoods of the town. Soldiers were stationed almost in all the major junctions of the town. It was very scary," Michael Lanyu, resident of Buea told Xinhua.
All sorts of activities in the town were not operational following an order from separatists who had promised "hell" to anybody who took part in the race.
Since November 2017, government forces have been clashing with armed separatist forces who want the two Anglophone regions of Northwest and Southwest to secede from the largely French-speaking nation and form a new country they called "Ambazonia".
Cameroon's Minister of Sports and Physical Education, Narcisse Mouelle Kombi who presided at the race said, its success was a clear determination of the people to live together peacefully.
"Nothing is more important than peace. With peace everything is possible. The peaceful ending of this race means that Cameroonians in the Southwest have demonstrated their love for peace and unity of the country." Kombi said.
Close to 250 athletes from Cameroon, Azerbaijan, Central African Republic, Kenya, Nigeria, Niger and Zimbabwe and Uganda took part in the race.
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 meters above sea level. Mbacha covered the distance in 4 hours 40 minutes and 9 seconds.