Cameroon’s military says three members of its airborne battalion this week attacked civilians and killed two mothers in Nylbat, an English-speaking village in Andeck district.
A statement signed Wednesday by military spokesperson Serge Cyrille Atongfack says the troops were dispatched to fight separatists in the troubled Northwest region.
The troops violated orders from military hierarchy and started shooting indiscriminately on civilians, the military says, adding that one shooter killed two harmless mothers.
The government says family members of the killed mothers rushed to the scene and collected corpses when the government troops left.
Dianne Ngeka, a relative of one victim, said civilians sealed their businesses and refused to go to their farms for three days as a sign of protest against Monday’s killings.
"It is disturbing that the military, which is supposed to protect us, is against us women," Ngeka said. "It is not safe anymore for anybody. When you see the military, you run, whether you are innocent or not. You just need to run helter skelter."
Ngeka spoke via the messaging app WhatsApp from Andeck. She said business activity resumed timidly on Thursday. The government said it had arrested the three troops that fired upon unarmed civilians.
Eyong Tarh, an official with the Center for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa, says rights groups in Cameroon will continue exerting pressure until the military punishes all of its troops who have committed atrocities.
"I have a worry whether the culprits will be brought to book, because similar cases have taken place but we don't know what has happened to the perpetrators," Tara said. "And that is why the others are still doing the activity, because they know that they may not actually be punished as deserved."
Tarh did not give details about the type of pressure rights groups intend to exert.
Activist groups also accuse Cameroon government troops who were deployed to secure schools when the academic year opened on September 5 of killing scores of villagers in western towns and villages, including Andeck, Wum, Boyo, Bamenda and Kumba.
The military describes the accusations as unfounded but promises to punish troops who killed civilians in Andeck. The government has not said what the punishment will be, and the accused soldiers’ whereabouts remain unknown.
In April, Cameroon's government also acknowledged that soldiers had killed three women and 10 children in a February massacre that they then tried to cover up by torching houses and blaming rebels.
Rights groups have repeatedly accused both Cameroon's military and anglophone separatists of killing civilians and torching their homes during their five years of fighting. Each side rejects the accusations as intended to tarnish its image.