Cameroon's military says it has killed 24 separatists who vowed to disrupt Sunday's election rerun in the country's English-speaking regions. The anglophone rebels say the casualties were on the military's side, but witnesses say a number of those killed were civilians caught up in the fighting.
Military commander Brigadier General Valere Nka says 350 troops destroyed 10 rebel camps this week, as well as seizing rebel vehicles and weapons and killing a number of their fighters, including a commander.
"The so-called general was neutralized, and you had about 20 killed or neutralized, many who are wounded [are] on the run. We are satisfied. Let's continue so that peace comes back to the west, northwest and southwest regions," Nka said.
The separatists on social media acknowledged the military destroyed their camps but said most of the casualties were among the military. Nka, however, said all of his troops are alive, though a few suffered minor injuries.
Witnesses say the military also killed civilians during the raids.
Metombi Nchari, a 44-year-old nurse, says troops shot dead at least six civilians, including his daughter.
"Do you want to tell me that my daughter, my 17-year-old daughter who was going to the farm, was carrying a weapon, meanwhile she was carrying just a hoe to go and work?" he said. "Or do you want to tell me that my daughter who is 17 years is a terrorist fighter? That is not possible."
Cameroon territorial administration minister Paul Atanga Nji rejected the possibility the military killed any civilians.
He says President Paul Biya ordered the raids to stop a spike in rebel attacks on candidates and voters ahead of Sunday's elections for the National Assembly.
"The head of state gave instructions that the administrative authorities and the forces of law and order reinforce the mechanisms for the rerun," Nji said. "We can tell you that the security situation in the northwest region is under control."
But locals, and even ruling Cameroon People's Democratic Movement party officials, say fighting is common.
An official of the ruling CPDM party in the village of Mbiame, Ben Collins Nyuyberiwo, says rebels are always attacking in the area.
"Either they cut off your fingers or they cut off your hands completely," he said. "Those who are not able to pay ransom are being killed. Ten houses belonging to my colleagues have been burned. Even this morning we received calls that they are coming to burn our houses if we take part in the rerun this Sunday. They have fabricated explosives and it causes a lot of havoc."
Nyuyberiwo says they are pleading with the rebels to call off their attacks and with Cameroon's military to offer protection.
The rebels, who are seeking an independent English-speaking state within French-speaking-majority Cameroon, have vowed to stop the elections.
Cameroon's Constitutional Council ordered a re-do of the vote in parts of the western regions over widespread irregularities and fraud.
The court said Biya's CPDM party, which was declared the winner, was guilty of violations ranging from ballot stuffing to chasing opposition voters from polling stations.
The party and government denied any wrongdoing.
Voter turnout was barely 5 percent in some English-speaking areas. Authorities have vowed to secure the area for a better turnout this Sunday.