YAOUNDE, CAMEROON— Border villages in Cameroon's north have been deserted following heavy fighting between the Nigerian army and the Islamist militant group Boko Haram in Banki, Borno state. About 30 Cameroonians and Nigerians are said to have been wounded in the attacks, and five are feared dead.
The heavy firing between the Nigerian army and Boko Haram created panic in Cameroonian border villages, especially Amchide.
Residents there said the Nigerian troops fired heavily and indiscriminately at fleeing militants. Businessman Halidou Alirou told VOA the shooting created panic. Many people fled the area and Alirou said he got separated from his wife. He recalled that the firing was so heavy, many in the vicinity were forced to escape to the nearby wilderness. Many may not soon return, and an atmosphere of panic persists.
The Nigerian army used both its infantry and air force in the attack. Resident Ayang Kaina said some Nigerians who were escaping from the crackdown are among the wounded.
The shooting was from all angles, including from vehicles and helicopters, Kaina said, adding that houses and property were destroyed and many people were wounded.
Many of the wounded are in hospitals in neighboring villages. Five who were seriously wounded were evacuated to a specialized hospital in Maroua, in northern Cameroon.
Suspected Boko Haram members tried to escape into Cameroonian territory with their arms but met heavy resistance from Cameroon's military.
On a visit to the area Thursday, Cameroonian Defense Minister Edgar Alain Mebe Ngo'o assured people the government has deployed troops to fight Boko Haram members who may flee across the border. He said that enough forces have been deployed, and pointed out that the border with Nigeria is one of the most secure in Cameroon. Some economists think the country could become an emerging economy by 2035.
It was not the first time Boko Haram has crossed into Cameroon. The militants have abducted a French family of seven and recently released a French priest they had kidnapped in northern Cameroon.
Boko Haram has launched attacks in Nigeria's Borno state several times in the past two months. Its leader, Abubakar Shekau, has claimed responsibility for a December 20 attack on a Nigerian army barracks in Bama, south of Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state.