YAOUNDE (Reuters) – Thousands have fled a fresh flare-up of violence in Cameroon’s separatist English-speaking regions in the past few days, a local security source and a government source said on Tuesday.
The army said separatists had attacked a police unit on Sunday in the northwestern town of Ndop, but did not mention any other incidents.
“The gendarmes who were attacked sought refuge in a nearby hair-dressing saloon,” the army’s spokesman said in a statement. “The bullets shot at them brutally killed two peaceful citizens and a baby.”
Separatist leaders could not immediately be reached for comment, but both the government and the militants have been accused of gratuitous violence, including the killing of civilians. In June, Human Rights Watch accused both sides of rights abuses and of acting with impunity.
The insurgency erupted in late 2017 following a government crackdown on peaceful protests in the Anglophone Northwest and Southwest regions. Since then, fighting has killed about 1,800 people and displaced over 500,000, according to U.N. estimates.
The local security source, speaking on condition of anonymity said the latest fighting had killed at least 34 people and forced thousands from their homes.
A local government source said there had been killings every day, though he was not sure about the numbers of dead. He also said that thousands had been displaced. Both sources said it was not possible to give a more exact figure.
The authorities did not respond to requests for comment on the number of casualties or newly displaced people.
The start of the school year in September is a tense time in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions. Separatists have imposed a school boycott as part of their protest against President Paul Biya’s French-speaking government.
As of June 2019, at least half of schools in the affected regions were closed due to attacks or the threat of violence, depriving more than 600,000 children of an education, according to the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
Residents of the northwestern city of Bamenda said the flare-up followed a court’s handing life sentences last Tuesday to 10 separatist leaders, including Julius Ayuk Tabe, a key figure in the Anglophone movement.
“As soon as they sentenced Ayuk, I knew the situation would worsen,” said Stephie, who asked to be referred to by her first name only. She left Bamenda by bus with her husband and three children last Friday.
“I knew people would die. I preferred to flee.”
The Bamenda bus station had been packed with others seeking to escape the violence, she said.
Cameroon’s linguistic partition is a legacy of its colonial history. At the end of World War One, the League of Nations carved up the German colony of Kamerun between allied victors, leaving most of Cameroon French-administered but a small part run by Britain.
(Reporting by Josiane Kouagheu; Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Tim Cocks and Gareth Jones)