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Cameroon Separatists Kill Top Prison Officials

FILE - Cameroon's military displays weapons and other equipment it says were seized from separatists, in Bamenda, Cameroon, March 4, 2021.

Cameroon says it is saddened by separatist fighters' unending attacks on government workers in its English-speaking northwest and southwest regions.

Separatists have been fighting to create an independent English-speaking state in the majority French speaking nation since 2017.

The government says the latest victims of separatist brutality are four top prison officials in the northwest region, who were killed Tuesday by the fighters.

Deben Tchoffo is the governor of the northwest region. He says the fighters killed and mutilated bodies of four prison leaders while they were on duty.

Tchoffo says Cameroon President Paul Biya instructed him Thursday to visit and extend condolences to the families of the four top prison officials killed by separatists in Tahkijah village in Kumbo, an English-speaking town in the northwest region. He says Biya has ordered the military to immediately track fighters who killed and mutilated the bodies of the government officials.

Tchoffo said Biya also ordered the government to organize a befitting burial for Kiga Theodore, the highest government prison official in the northwest region, and his three close collaborators killed by fighters.

The Cameroon military says Kiga and three other prison workers were ambushed by separatists in Tahkijah, a village in Kumbo. The military says Kiga was pulled out of his service car along with three of his colleagues. One of the prison staff was shot and killed, while three others were beaten with machetes until they died, the military says.

The Cameroon government says the four officials were returning from Nkambe, a town near the border with Nigeria. The prison administrators were in Nkambe to officially install recently appointed prison staff in the border town.

Separatists have claimed responsibility for the attack and shared videos on social media, including Facebook and WhatsApp, showing how the officials were killed.

Capo Daniel is deputy defense chief of the Ambazonia Defense Forces, which the government says is one of the biggest separatist groups in Cameroon. Daniel says his forces will attack all government workers until the government withdraws all of its workers from English-speaking western regions. He says the prison officials were killed because they tried to fight back when stopped by fighters.

"The Cameroon prison guards were armed and ready for war [battle] when they were confronted by our fighters. We will fight to push Cameroon military personnel and the administrative officers [state officials] out of our territory. We will intensify our attacks against the Cameroon military and the administrative representatives until Cameroon withdraws [from the English-speaking regions]."

The military on Friday said several hundred troops have been deployed to track and arrest or kill fighters responsible for the act.

The Roman Catholic Church in Kikaikelaki said scores of people have been arrested, and an unknown number have escaped to safer localities in the English-speaking North West region, where Kumbo is located.

The church says each time government officials are killed, the military commits abuses on civilians, including torture and arrests, while troops search for fighters.

Cameroon’s military has always denied it abuses the rights of civilians.

Cameroon says at least 700 government workers, particularly teachers, have been abducted since the separatist crisis started. Scores have been killed by suspected fighters.

The U.N. says Cameroon's separatist crisis that degenerated into an armed conflict in 2017 has killed at least 3,300 people, with 750,000 internally displaced.