YAOUNDE, CAMEROON - Hundreds of Christians inside a Roman Catholic church in Yaounde sang in prayer, asking for peace and God's intervention in Cameroon, especially after what clergyman Timothy Siwe said was a massacre in the English-speaking village of Ngarr-buh.
"People are massacred and burned in their houses. It is not acceptable. It is not acceptable in our 21st century. Women, babies, houses burned. This is too much. We have to come [together] as one people and stop this genocide that is going on," Siwe said.
Witnesses in northwest Cameroon say around two dozen people were killed last Friday when government forces invaded a village suspected of being used by separatist forces as a hideout. The government says seven of those killed were rebels, but NGOs maintain that the killings are similar to an incident four years ago in which several civilians, including children, were shot dead by the army in the war against Boko Haram militants.
Fleeing villagers said they saw armed men dressed in Cameroon military outfits in the Ngarr-buh attack that killed at least 22 people last Friday.
Defense Minister Joseph Beti Assomo said soldiers on a reconnaissance operation were attacked by separatist fighters who had transformed parts of Ngarr-buh into their logistics base.
Assomo said seven rebels were killed and a woman and four children were killed by a fire in a separatist hideout that also served as a fuel depot.
Government spokesperson Rene Emmanuel Sadi said information that it was a massacre was propaganda from separatists to discredit government troops.
Sadi said Cameroon is not only surprised but scandalized that its military, which has remained professional and impartial in defending the nation and its people against terrorists, can be accused of violence against the same people it protects. He said such accusations are intended to destabilize the forces.
Kah Walla, coordinator of Stand Up for Cameroon, a group promoting justice and peace in the country, said the incident is similar to one in 2016 in which two women and two children - one of them a baby - were shot dead by the army in Cameroon's war against Boko Haram.
The military denied it was responsible but later bowed to international and domestic pressure and arrested the culprits.
"It is one in a series that includes the cold-blooded murder of two women and their children in Zelevet in 2015, the assassination of over a dozen people in Ashigachia in the extreme north in 2016, the burning and looting of over 50 houses in Bali in January 2020 and attacks and killings reported in Bui, Nkoketunjia amd Mezam divisions over the past 10 days. At Stand Up for Cameroon, we will stand up to say no. Not in our name, not in our time," Walla said.
The United Nations humanitarian assistance office in Cameroon has called for immediate investigations.
Armed groups have been fighting since 2017 to create an independent state in the English-speaking Northwest and Southwest regions, separate from the rest of Cameroon and its French-speaking majority.