Cameroon's government deployed at least 100 troops Wednesday to Gayama, a village on the border with Nigeria, after clashes between Cameroonian separatists and Nigerian herders left at least 12 people dead.
Cameroonian officials say the fighting broke out six days ago, after herders who crossed the border in search of food for their cattle refused to pay taxes the rebels demanded.
Abdoulahi Aliou, the highest-ranking government official in Menchum, the administrative unit in charge of Gayama, said the rebels killed two herders immediately upon their refusal to pay. The surviving herders, who are ethnic Fulani from Taraba and Benue states, returned home and organized a counterattack.
Aliou said the herders came back in huge numbers, attacked separatist camps, and killed at least four fighters. Six civilians, including the traditional ruler of Munkep village and his son, were also killed in the clashes.
Authorities say at least 20 civilians were injured, scores of cattle were killed, and homes were torched.
The Roman Catholic Church in Menchum says many civilians fled Gayama and neighboring villages to avoid getting caught in clashes between separatists and the arriving troops.
The governor of Cameroon's Northwest region, Deben Tchoffo, said civilians should not fear the military. Speaking by telephone from the region's capital, Bamenda, he said villagers should help the troops by denouncing rebels hiding in their communities.
"The future is bright, provided we are united against the agents of chaos that are trying to hijack our youths," Tchoffo said. "The armed forces are bringing themselves close to the population. That is the reason why, compared to last year, things are becoming more and more normal in the Northwest region, even if we still have some hotspots."
Tchoffo said Cameroon's military would protect civilians in all border villages.
Separatists on social media, including WhatsApp and Facebook, acknowledged they have been battling Nigerian herders, who they say should respect their orders.
This is not the first time Cameroon's anglophone separatists have attacked Nigerians along the border.
Last June, villagers in western Akwaya town said armed men believed to be rebels carried out a series of attacks that killed at least 30 people, including five Nigerian merchants.
The separatists have been fighting since 2017 to carve out an English-speaking state from French-speaking majority Cameroon.
The U.N. says the conflict has left more than 3,500 people dead and 750,000 displaced.