YAOUNDE, CAMEROON - Unity Day activities in Cameroon were marred this week by clashes between separatists and government troops. The violence left at least 16 people dead and 60 houses burned.
Local media reported that streets in Cameroon’s English-speaking towns and villages were deserted Thursday as the central African state celebrated its National Day, also known as Unity Day.
Meanwhile business activity went on as usual in French-speaking towns and villages.
Efang, also known as Big Number, calls himself the supreme general and commander of separatist fighters in the English-speaking North West and South West regions.
He said on social media that he asked fighters to make sure all English speakers remain at home as a sign of protest against National Day.
He says the English-speaking North West and South West regions no longer consider themselves part of the French-speaking majority state of Cameroon. He says English-speaking Cameroonians should not celebrate a national day imposed by the Yaounde government, which is using military might to deprive English speakers of their freedom.
Efang also said fighters and government troops clashed this week in the northwestern town of Kumbo and villages, including Buh, Takijah, Meluf, Oku and Ndop.
Genesis Tamu is a farmer in the village of Buh. He says villagers found six corpses after the military left Buh on Tuesday night. He spoke to VOA via WhatsApp.
Tamu says he saw Cameroon troops setting fire to houses in the northwestern village of Buh. He says when the troops left, villagers found out that 35 of their houses were torched and property, including mattresses, pigs and goats were looted.
Tamu said on Thursday morning, village elders were still searching for missing villagers, who may have either been killed or arrested by the military, or may have escaped to the bush for safety.
Catholic Church officials said about 60 houses were torched in Buh, Tadu and Oku, but did not say whether separatists or army troops were responsible.
The military said violence ahead of National Day resulted in the deaths of 16 people.
General Valere Nka, commander of government troops fighting rebels in the North West region, says the military remained professional during their raids on separatist camps.
"We cleared many camps. Our men in the field are observing the humanitarian law. Our men secure the vulnerable, the children and women," said Nka. "We need their collaboration to succeed in this operation. We need to win hearts and minds."
Nka said many suspected separatists were arrested and are helping in investigations.
Philemon Yang is Cameroon’s immediate past prime minister and remains a close ally of President Paul Biya.
He says fighters should drop their guns and rejoice that the government has done much to attend to the needs of disgruntled English speakers.
He says the government is in a permanent dialogue to make all Cameroonians feel comfortable and proud of their nation. He says the government of Cameroon after a 2019 national dialogue, granted a special status with more autonomy to Cameroon's troubled English-speaking regions. He says every Cameroonian should know that there is no state in the world without problem. He says Cameroonians should stop all attempts to destabilize their country.
Separatists have rejected the special status and promised to make the English-speaking regions ungovernable until they are granted their independence.