Cameroon’s military says it deployed scores of troops to Oku, Kumbo and Kakiri districts Monday in the central African state’s English-speaking Northwest region.
The military says armed gangs over the weekend sealed markets, chased people and vehicles from the streets and abducted scores of civilians who did not comply with their orders.
Motorcycle taxi driver Lukong Genesis, 54, said armed men seized his motorcycle. He said the separatists, who call themselves Ambazonians or Amba, pointed guns at him and demanded he go home.
"The situation in Kumbo for the past two days has been very, very precarious," he said. There has been serious gun firing between the Amba and the state forces and today being Monday, the ghost town has been reinforced and the streets are dry. No movement of vehicles and people. Everybody is indoors."
Lukong said battles between troops and rebels intensified after President Paul Biya's New Year's Eve speech.
Biya said many rebel groups have been crushed and the threat from separatists has been significantly reduced.
He praised the central African state’s military for protecting civilians and property during the six-year conflict and said peace would pave the way for the region’s reconstruction.
The rebels say they want to carve out an English-speaking state they call Ambazonia from Cameroon and its French-speaking majority.
Capo Daniel is self-declared deputy defense chief of the Ambazonia Defense Forces, one of the rebel groups. He dismissed the allegation that their forces have been significantly reduced.
"That Paul Biya mentioned that peace is returning is laughable. Ambazonia-controlled areas have largely increased. Nineteen Cameroon military men were targeted in Bui and some of them were airlifted for treatment. There have been some arson attacks by the Cameroon military in Bui as well as in Oku. Ambazonia will not give up their fight until we have achieved our goal of independence," said Daniel.
Cameroon’s military admits that troops have been in running battles with rebels in several western towns and villages but says their forces did not suffer any casualties.
The military says it killed at least 11 separatists in battles in Kumbo and Oku, a claim which VOA could not independently confirm.
Bernard Okalia Bilai, the governor of the English-speaking Southwest region said civilians should denounce members of armed gangs and hoodlums causing havoc in the community to the military and government officials. Bilai said armed gangs are harassing people, stealing, and abducting civilians for ransom claiming it is a fight for freedom and liberation.
The separatists deny their fighters are abducting and harassing civilians.
Rebels on social media posts Monday said their fighters were enforcing the curfew to counter Biya’s claim that fighters were being defeated.
Separatists in English-speaking western Cameroon launched their rebellion in 2017 after what they said was years of discrimination by the country’s French-speaking majority.
Biya says Cameroon is indivisible and anyone attempting it will be crushed.
The U.N. says the conflict has killed more than 3,500 people and displaced more 750,000.