Gunmen kill at least 20 in one of Cameroon's anglophone regions

NOV 7, 2023 LISTEN

Cameroon's government has blamed separatist rebels for an attack on Monday in which at least 20 people were killed, including women and children. It occurred in a village in one of the country's restive anglophone regions.

The overnight attack occurred in Egbekaw village, in southwest Cameroon, the scene of deadly clashes between rebels and government forces for the past seven years.

Although there had been no claim of responsibility, state media attributed the attack to separatist rebels routinely called "terrorists" by authorities.

"There were men, women and children, more than 20 killed," minister at the presidency Mengot Victor Arrey-Nkongho told public radio. "It's intolerable."

Cameroon's primarily English-speaking Northwest and Southwest regions have been gripped by conflict since separatists declared independence in 2017.

That followed decades of grievances over perceived discrimination by the francophone majority.

In the middle of the night "terrorists" opened fire with guns and used "traditional arms", Manyu department prefect Viang Mekala said on the radio.

"There are about 20 dead and seven seriously wounded, a dozen houses burnt," he added.

Houses set on fire

President Paul Biya, 90, who has ruled the central African nation for 41 years to the day, has resisted calls for wider autonomy and responded with a crackdown.

The conflict has claimed more than 6,000 lives and forced more than a million people to flee their homes, according to the International Crisis Group.

"It happened at 4:00 AM. Armed young people came and fired on sleeping residents in their houses and set a whole block of houses on fire," a resident told French news agency AFP by telephone requesting not to be identified out of security concerns.

"Twenty-three people have already been removed from the debris, some of whom are not even recognisable because of the fire."

He said there was reason to believe it was connected to the 6 November anniversary of Biya assuming power as president in 1982.

A meeting of the ruling Cameroon People's Democratic Movement (RDPC) was planned in the area, he added.

Atrocities on both sides

Both the separatists – who call themselves "Ambazonians" – and government forces have been accused of atrocities in the fighting.

Armed groups are regularly accused of abducting, killing or injuring civilians whom they accuse of "collaborating" with Cameroonian authorities.

Security forces are also often accused by international NGOs and the United Nations of killings and torture against civilians suspected of sympathising with the rebels.

Last month, rebels "summarily executed" two villagers in public in the Northwest region whom they accused of collaborating with the army.

In July, Amnesty International reported that security forces, separatist rebels and ethnic militiamen had committed "atrocities" in the Northwest Region, including executions, torture and rape.