Cameroon’s military says it has killed seven suspected English-speaking separatist rebels in Bamenda in the North West region.
Four soldiers were rushed to the local hospital, said a health worker, but the military has not reported any dead.
The region’s army commander, Gen. Agha Robinson, said the military is finding it difficult to battle the rebels because they hide among civilians.
The fighting started Monday evening and continued throughout the night, as civilians fled their neighborhoods amid sporadic gunfire. A local student, Stanley Fru, 23, said he saw a stray bullet shatter the leg of an elderly woman who was going to the market early Tuesday morning.
“The military was chasing fighters,” he said. “All of them were shooting indiscriminately.”
The fighting in Cameroon’s restive region erupted just days after President Paul Biya freed 289 suspected separatists, many of whom later urged the government to release their leaders who remain in jail.
“We are urging the fighters to drop their guns,” said Deben Tchoffo, the governor of the North West region. He said that the release of the suspected terrorists should be taken as an indication that Biya “wanted peace to return” and pledged to “take care of them and reintegrate them socially and economically.”
Cameroon’s English-speaking separatists have been protesting since 2016 against what they claim is discrimination by the French-speaking majority. Initially the protests by teachers in the country’s English-speaking region were peaceful, but in response to a government crackdown some separatists have begun waging a violent campaign.
The Cameroonian government said that at least 1,200 people have died in the violence since January, which started after Nigeria detained and extradited separatist leader Julius Ayuk Tabe and 46 other alleged separatists to Cameroon. Several of the recently released suspected separatists said that there will not be peace until Tabe and the others are also freed.
The separatists, largely members of the Anglophone population, which accounts for about one-fifth of the largely French-speaking country’s 25 million people, have vowed to destabilize the region.