The streets of the Batibo district in western Cameroon were deserted Tuesday following three days of clashes between government forces and separatist fighters. Both sides say they inflicted significant losses on the other, while witnesses report seeing the bodies of troops, rebel fighters and civilians.
Civilians said an uneasy calm reigned in the Batibo district, located in Cameroon’s English-speaking Northwest region.
Primary school teacher Emmanuel Mbah said very few civilians could be seen walking the streets of Batibo on Tuesday morning.
"People cannot go to their farms, shops are sealed, markets are sealed and traders are running away for their safety. Houses are burnt down and the population suffers, so the fighting between the military and the separatists are causing much havoc to the population,” he said.
Speaking by the messaging app WhatsApp, Mbah said several dozen Cameroon government troops have been searching homes in Batibo and arresting people suspected of collaborating with separatist fighters.
The Cameroon military said Tuesday that 17 separatist fighters were killed in three days of fighting in Batibo.
The military said an additional 18 fighters were captured in Bambui, Batibo and Noni, all towns in the Northwest region. The military also said it destroyed or seized weapons, locally made explosive devices and several dozen motorcycles used by the separatists to attack government troops.
Capo Daniel, deputy defense chief of the Ambazonia Defense Forces, one of the separatist groups in Cameroon's western regions, said the group lost 11 fighters as well as weapons and motorcycles.
He says the fighting was fierce in Enyoh and Ewah villages, located in Batibo district.
"The Ambazonia Defense Forces assembled over 300 forces to launch attacks in Bamenda city," he said. "Our forces were attacked from multiple fronts. We suffered some losses. The major operation where our soldiers were supposed to carry out as they assembled will be scrapped as a result of the setback."
Daniel said separatists on Tuesday ordered their fighters, who were deployed to attack Bamenda, the capital of the Northwest region, to immediately retreat to their camps. He said separatist leaders will meet in the days ahead to strategize how to coordinate further attacks against Cameroon's military.
Separatist groups say at least two dozen government troops were killed in the Batibo confrontation. The military denied that any of its troops were killed, saying that a few sustained minor injuries.
Cameroon government officials in the Northwest region are calling for calm and asking civilians to collaborate with the military by reporting suspected fighters in their towns and villages. The military says it will protect all civilians and their goods.
Armed groups have been fighting since 2017 to separate two English-speaking regions of Cameroon from the country and its French-speaking majority.
The U.N. says the conflict has killed more than 3,000 people and displaced more than a half-million.