Yaoundé — The Cameroon government has expressed “sincere regret” to Israel over comments made by a minister who compared the Bamileke people to Jews persecuted by Nazi Germany.

Deputy justice minister Jean de Dieu Momo appeared to warn arrested opposition leader Maurice Kamto that he is leading the Bamileke people to a similar fate of Jews murdered in World War 2. Both men are of Bamileke descent.

“In Germany, there was a very rich community who wielded all economic power,” Jean de Dieu Momo said on Sunday during a prime-time TV show on the public Cameroon radio television (Crtv) network. He added that he is referring to the Jews.

“They [the Jews] were so arrogant that the German people were frustrated. Then one day, a certain Hitler came to power and put them in the gas chambers,” he said. “Educated people like Mr Kamto need to know where they are leading their people,” he said.

Former government minister Maurice Kamto was arrested on January 28 in a move condemned by human rights groups. Analysts say the authorities view Kamto as a threat as he claims to have been cheated out of the presidency in  2018’s elections.

The Cameroon government distanced itself from Kamto amid outrage from the Israel.

“The government of the republic of Cameroon would like to stress that the minister concerned was speaking in a personal capacity,” said communication minister René Emmanuel Sadi  on Tuesday.

The government said it “deplored” the deputy justice minister’s comments, but has not said if he will be disciplined.

 The Israeli embassy in Cameroon “strongly” condemned Kamto’s comments, which it said “makes a tacit justification of the Holocaust by Nazi Germany”.