Clashes between army and anglophone separatists have claimed several lives in the town of Kumba in Cameroon’s troubled Southwest Region, sources said on Thursday.
“Several people, including civilians, have been killed in Kumba since Monday,” a source close to the town’s medical services told AFP, confirming witness accounts.
“These people died during various army operations” after Kumba’s police superintendent was killed on Sunday, the source said.
The murder has been blamed on separatists who want secession from the French-speaking bulk of Cameroon.
“There were exchanges of gunfire for much of (Wednesday) night,” one witness said.
“I heard gunshots all night long. Things have quietened down, but people are beginning to leave town,” said a teacher who asked not be named.
The security situation has been tense for days in Southwest Region, which along with the Northwest Region was once under British rule before joining francophone Cameroon in 1961 after independence.
At least three police officers have been killed since Sunday, at Kumba and in the regional capital Buea.
For the first time since anglophone protest over perceived neglect by the central government erupted at the end of 2016, fighting took place on Monday in Buea, a city of more than 100 000 people patrolled by a large military force.
Defence Minister Joseph Beti Assomo was paying an official visit on Thursday to the Southwest Region, where the separatist crisis became an armed struggle by radical foes of President Paul Biya’s regime late in 2017.
In addition to targeting police and troops, the separatists have carried out arson attacks on perceived symbols of the state such as schools. They have also kidnapped civil servants, police officers, businessmen and sometimes foreigners.
At the beginning of 2018, most of the conflict took place in the Northwest Region, but the epicentre of violence has gradually shifted south to a rural area between the towns of Kumba, Mamfe and the border with Nigeria.
Clashes take place almost every day in both regions.