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Cameroon Says Frightened Separatists Relocate to Border with Nigeria, Harass Civilians

Map of Cameroon's Anglophone Northwest and Southwest regions

Cameroon's government says calm is gradually returning to several towns in its English-speaking western regions after the military launched raids on separatist strongholds during the past month.

The military said troops carried out operations in many western towns and villages including Kumbo, Ndop, Wum, Bafut and Kom, with at least 20 separatist fighters were killed but no government troops were wounded.

General Valere Nka, the commander of Cameroonian troops fighting separatists in the English-speaking North-West region, said several hundred fighters escaped to villages along Cameroon's western border with Nigeria. He said troops have been deployed to stop fighters from stealing goods and money from merchants and cattle from ranchers in border localities.

"The president of the republic, President Paul Biya, commander in chief of the armed forces has sent the defense and security forces to protect you, not to kill you," Nka said during a visit to several border villages this week. "We need your total collaboration to better secure you."

The military did not say how many troops have been deployed or how long the troops are expected to stay along the border with Nigeria.

Nelson Bwei, a spokesperson for the Abba Village Development Committee, said a military post is needed in the village, which is on the border with Nigeria, to protect civilians from separatist fighters. He said hundreds of the fighters are hiding in the bush along the border, especially in Fungong district.

"Our children are facing harassment," he said. "Lower Fungong has no security post. The people there are exposed to insecurity. We plead to the general to create military units because we believe that if there is that military unit, it will beef up the security of the subdivision."

Bwei said the separatists have seized at least 90 cows from ranchers within three weeks. He said fighters have abducted at least 13 civilians for ransom, especially merchants doing business between Cameroon and Nigeria.

On social media platforms, including Facebook and WhatsApp, the separatists have denied the loss of 20 fighters. The separatists say their presence in border localities is a tactical withdrawal to prepare and face government troops. The fighters deny they are harassing civilians as the government claims and insist that they are out to protect English-speakers from Cameroon military brutality.

Cameroon’s military has always denied it abuses civilian’s rights.

Separatists have been fighting since 2017 to carve out an independent English-speaking state in majority French-speaking Cameroon. The crisis started when English-speaking teachers and lawyers protested the dominance of French in official government business and education. The government responded with a crackdown and separatists took up weapons.

The United Nations says at least 3,300 people have been killed with 750,000 internally displaced.