Thousands of people protested Monday against separatist attacks and abductions at schools and churches. Demonstrators demanded to know the whereabouts of scores of people, including five Catholic priests, a nun, and two worshippers taken last month from a church on Cameroon's western border with Nigeria.
Hundreds of people march in Ebonyi, a village in the Tombel district, asking separatists to stop brutalizing, abducting, killing and maiming civilians.
The Tombel district is in the Southwest region, one of two regions that separatist groups want to split off from Cameroon for a new English-speaking state.
During the daily protests that started Saturday, demonstrators say they want all schools shut down by rebels to reopen so children can have an education.
The protesters say humanitarian workers, teachers, traditional rulers, hospital staff and the clergy — who are often harassed, abducted or tortured by fighters — should be allowed to work freely.
Protesters are demanding that all captives be immediately released and said no one should be forced to pay a ransom.
Among the abducted people the protesters want released are five Catholic priests, a nun, and two worshippers abducted last month from a Roman Catholic church in the town of Nchang. The clergy and missing parishioners are from the Roman Catholic diocese of Mamfe.
Reverend Father Humphrey Tatah Mbui, director of communications at the National Episcopal Conference of Cameroon Catholic Bishops, says the whereabouts of the abducted clergy remains unknown.
"Gunmen have been asking for money and the bishop of Mamfe, his lordship Aloysius Abangalo does not have that money they are asking for, and even if he had, I wonder whether we have reached a point where the church should be giving money as ransom," Mbui said.
Mbui said the church did not organize the protests but that several hundred Christians are taking part in them.
Cameroon’s government says protests are taking place in English-speaking towns and villages including Kumbo, Oku, Esso Aah, Wum, Kumba and Mamfe.
The government said it ordered troops to protect the protesters.
Capo Daniel is deputy defense chief of the Ambazonia Defense Forces, one of the main separatist groups. Daniel accuses the government of organizing the protests to give the impression that locals are revolting against the rebels.
"We have seen enablers of Cameroon rule corrupt some Ambazonia forces to get populations to rise up and stage this propaganda march past calling for the disarmament of the Amazonia forces and the support of the Cameroon state. We will send our forces to those areas to investigate and anybody that organizes such treasonous demonstrations will be brought to justice," said Capo.
Daniel did not say the form of punishment fighters will dole out. Protesters said they are counting on Cameroon government troops to protect the safety of all civilians.
The government said it did not organize the protests. Civilians say their communities organized the protests because people are angry with separatists for torturing the civilians that separatists claim to be protecting.
Cameroon’s separatist crisis began with protests against the dominance of the French language in 2016 and degenerated into conflict the following year. The U.N. says the crisis has left more than 3,300 people dead and displaced more than 750,000 others.