Map of Northwest and Southwest regions, Cameroon

YAOUNDE - Hundreds of Cameroonians have braved a heavy military presence and separatists’ threats to protest increasing violence and barbarism in the central African state’s restive English-speaking regions. The protest in the southwestern town of Muyuka was provoked by the killing of civilians and other brutality by the military, which is searching for separatists said to be responsible for a recent wave of attacks and murder of women and aid workers.

About 300 people, most of them women and children marched silently on the streets of Cameroon’s southwestern town of Muyuka Sunday. Twenty-nine-year-old Ernestine Naayah said Cameroon’s Womens Peace Movement, which she represents in Muyuka, and four other organizations organized the protest because they are fed up with growing violence in Cameroon’s English-speaking Northwest and Southwest regions.

"I am out here today to say no to violence, to decry the killings of innocent civilians and especially women. Our cry today is for the leaders of the nation to do something about the crisis in the North and Southwest regions. We all deserve to live in peace in this glorious land God has given us," she said.

Naayah said the groups organized the anti-violence protest in Muyuka because it is in the southwestern town that the latest gruesome case of murder was reported.

Gruesome killings

On August 11, Comfort Tumasang a 32-year-old mother of two was gruesomely murdered in Muyuka. A video her beheading went viral on social media, provoking widespread condemnation.

Comfort’s mother, 63-year-old Mary Tumasang, said separatists accused her daughter of collaborating with the military as an informant. She said she supports the protest because she wants peace to return to Cameroon. She said she wants her daughter’s killers arrested.

She said when separatists came to her home, her frightened daughter, Comfort, did not hesitate to hand over her telephone as the fighters requested. She said 30 minutes later, she watched helplessly as Comfort was forced out of the house to a neighborhood called Sandsand. She said in Sandsand, the fighters tied Comfort to a tree but residents raised an alarm and the fighters fled, taking her daughter along.

Comfort Tumasang was later found dead in a pool of her own blood. Thirteen other cases of gruesome killing were reported in Cameroon’s two English-speaking regions.

Col. Henri Tchinda, a military police commander in Cameroon's Southwest region, arrives in Buea, Jan. 9, 2020. (Moki Edwin Kindzeka/VOA)

Emmanuel Ledou Engamba, highest administrative officer in Muyuka’s Fako Division said the military has been deployed to restore peace. He said the troops have been instructed to arrest Tumasang’s killers.

"These criminals are going to be prosecuted, and actions have been undertaken to make sure that they are tracked down. I have extended the condolence message of the head of state [Cameroon’s President Paul Bya] to the bereaved family of late Mrs. Tumasang, who was brutally assassinated by criminals [separatist fighters]," he said.

The separatists say the military organizes some of the attacks on civilians to give fighters a bad name.

The military says separatists have resorted to attacking civilians because their fighters’ ability to attack has been greatly reduced by government troops.

The Cameroonian government, rights groups and embassies also blame separatist fighters for the increasing brutality and gruesome killing of civilians and aid workers.

Civilians say the military brutalizes populations as troops search for separatists suspected to have been responsible for the killings.

The military insists that its troops have remained professional.

The United Nations reports that Cameroon’s four-year separatist crisis has killed over 3,000 and displaced at least 500,000 others.