Cameroon’s military said several soldiers have been arrested for torturing a suspected separatist general and fighters, following deadly fighting in the northwestern village of Djotin.
Army Captain and military spokesman Cyrille Serge Atonfack Guemo said in a statement that the government troops in question committed gross human rights violations and crimes, which give Cameroon's military a bad image.
The military said during an operation to free civilians abducted by fighters, troops killed at least a dozen rebels and arrested and tortured several others. The statement said government troops accused the fighters they arrested of helping No Pity, a notorious self-proclaimed separatist general, to escape.
The statement said government troops took and shared videos of the torture scene among themselves.
The videos leaked and were shared on social media platforms including WhatsApp and Facebook, leading to an outcry and widespread condemnation, according to the statement.
Fon Issidore, a 25-year-old farmer in Djotin, said the military also attacked and killed innocent civilians during the operation, which took place last week.
Fon said he saw seven government troops attack his residence in Djotin. He said he escaped to a nearby bush through the back door as the troops were struggling to destroy the front door. Fon said he returned to the house after three hours when the troops had left and saw that his mother had been shot two times in the head.
Fon spoke via the messaging app WhatsApp. He said he saw four injured people being taken by their relatives to a hospital in the nearby town of Kumbo.
The military denies claims that the troops killed or wounded innocent civilians in the Djotin clash.
Colonel Boum Bissoue is one of Cameroon's military commanders fighting separatists in the Northwest region. He said a large majority of Cameroon’s government troops protect civilians and their property. He said the few who abuse the rights of citizens will be severely punished as spelled out in Cameroon’s military code of conduct. Boum said civilians should feel secure when they see government troops and report wayward behavior to military hierarchy.
The government has not said how many of the troops were taken into custody or when they will face justice.
In July and for the first time, Defense Minister Joseph Beti Assomo acknowledged grave rights abuses by the military against civilians in the fight against anglophone rebels and said he had ordered such violations to stop.
Rights groups including the Center for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa have accused government troops of committing human rights abuses in the separatist crisis. They say the government tortures and kills people suspected of collaborating with rebels.
Human Rights Watch has accused both the military and rebels of abuses, including rape, torture and killings. The separatists blame the military and armed groups in the western regions.
The U.N. says the separatist crisis that began in Cameroon’s English-speaking regions in 2017 has killed more than 3,300 people and displaced 750,000, with many fleeing to neighboring Nigeria. Cameroon's anglophone rebels want to create a breakaway state they call Ambazonia, separate from the nation’s French-speaking majority.