Map of Northwest and Southwest regions, Cameroon

BAFOUSSAM, CAMEROON - Cameroon’s military says anglophone separatists killed four hostages, including a local official, after troops attacked their camp in a western part of the country. The military said it freed five others the anglophone rebels had abducted and raped.

A young woman recovering at a Cameroon military base in the French-speaking, western town of Bafoussam, confirmed to a reporter that rebel fighters this week abducted and raped her.    

Cameroon’s military rescued the 17-year-old, whose name is being withheld to prevent stigma, and four other young women on Tuesday and brought them to the base.

She said heavily armed anglophone rebels took her on Sunday from a Catholic church in the English-speaking, northwestern town of Mbiame.    

The separatist fighters took her into the bush, she said, and kept her and several other hostages at a remote camp.

"They accused me of communicating with military men and directing them [the troops] how to move about and kill them [separatists],” the woman said. “So, when we reached their camp, we were beaten. When I went there, these my friends were already there. We were badly beaten. We sleep on the floor. They do not give us any food or water."

Ransom demanded by rebels

The 17-year-old said the rebels demanded the women’s families pay a ransom of $3,000 each for their release or else they would be killed.

But Cameroonian troops raided the camp, freeing the five hungry, tired and frayed women, aged 17 to 21.

Paul Atanga Nji, Cameroon’s territorial administration minister, said the rebels took the women in revenge after troops last week attacked their hideouts and killed several fighters.    

"These are children who have been kidnapped by the terrorists, abused sexually, raped by the terrorists and, thanks to the professionalism of our defense forces, these children were released,” Nji said. “The children are under medical control. The defense forces are assisting them."

Seven rebels reportedly killed

Nji said the women were rescued during fighting that killed seven rebels. He gave no casualty figures for the military and it was not possible to confirm the numbers.    

Not all those being held hostage came out alive, though.

Officials in the English-speaking, northwest region of Ngoketunjia said rebels killed four hostages.

Senior government official Quetong Handerson Konge issued a statement that said among the four victims was a deputy mayor. The statement called on the population to continue helping the military find rebels and their hideouts.    

Rebels in Cameroon have not responded directly to the accusations but have been sharing videos on social media of the killed civilians and warning people against aiding the military.

The separatist conflict broke out in 2017 over resentment that Cameroon’s English-speaking minority is treated as second class to the French-speaking majority.

Fighting in the western English-speaking regions has left about 3,000 people dead and displaced more than 500,000 to French-speaking regions and neighboring Nigeria.