MBOUDA, CAMEROON - Cameroon's Anglophone separatists have attacked towns and villages in protest after a military tribunal gave their leader and 9 supporters life sentences. Cameroon's military says at least two people were killed in Bamenda and six wounded in a shoot-out with separatists.
Food seller Donatus Ngwa, 24, fled fighting Wednesday in the northwestern English-speaking town of Bamenda to French-speaking Mbouda.
He says separatist fighters started chasing people off Bamenda's streets on Tuesday night. Wednesday, they were shooting indiscriminately in the air, Ngwa says, assaulting those who disobeyed them and ordering everyone to leave the streets.
Nearly 100 Cameroonians have fled to Mbouda since Tuesday, when a Yaounde military tribunal found separatist leader Julius Ayuk Tabe and nine supporters guilty of secession, terrorism and hostility against Cameroon. All 10 were given lifetime prison sentences and ordered to pay a fine of $50 million.
Rights groups and other critics condemned the court's ruling, saying it would impede efforts to end the conflict, which has left 2,000 people dead in the past three years.
Activist Edward Nfor says the sentences risk inflaming further violence.
"I would not be surprised if the violence this time will be very disastrous and might stretch a little bit further into the other parts of the country," he said. "Let the head of state do something about this. The time is now to think on another strategy to calm down tensions."
Separatists on social media ordered everyone in Cameroon's English-speaking western regions to stay at home as a sign of protest over the sentences. They also vowed to step up their fight to make Cameroon's English-speaking regions independent of the French majority.
The governor of the English-speaking northwest region, Deben Tchoffo, called on the population to be calm and work with the military.
"They can be assured of the availability of the administrative authorities and the security services to help them," he said. "I am asking the population of the northwest region to remobilize themselves to shun out of the region those who are terrorizing the population, threatening them."
Violence erupted in Cameroon's English-speaking regions in 2016, when teachers and lawyers protested alleged discrimination at the hands of the French-speaking majority.
The government responded with a crackdown that sparked an armed movement for an independent, English-speaking state.