YAOUNDE, CAMEROON - Hundreds of Cameroonians marched in the capital Yaoundé to protest the murders of three village chiefs by suspected rebels.
Most of those protesting Tuesday came from the Lebialem administrative unit in Cameroon's anglophone southwest, where the chiefs were murdered.
Cameroon's minister delegate in charge of planning at the Ministry of the Economy, Paul Tasong, is from Lebialem and was among the mourners. He blamed anglophone rebels for killing chiefs Fualasoeh Peter, Formin Benedict and Simon Forzi on Saturday.
"They (the chiefs) were accused of refusing to hand over the proceeds of their cocoa sales for the 2020, 2021 cocoa season," Tasong said. "Furthermore, one of them was accused of promoting education in the village, and we say no. We say no because a secessionist movement should not bar children from going to school. We say no because a secessionist movement should not confiscate the products of the labor of our citizens."
Cameroon's military confirmed the rebels killed the three chiefs Saturday, and said it had deployed troops to free other people who had been abducted. A military spokesperson gave no further details.
Mungambo Ekema William, the most senior government official in Lebialem, said by phone that the terrorists were led by the self-proclaimed field marshal Oliver Lekeaka. The fighters publicly executed the chiefs at the Essoh Attah village market square and dumped their bodies in a river, William said, adding that the group also abducted several people from Essoh Attah village.
Separatists on social media denied being responsible for the killings and repeated their regular claim that the government planned the murders to make them look bad.
Lekeaka is the leader of an anglophone rebel group that calls itself the Red Dragons.
Cameroon's government said the Red Dragons have killed, abducted and maimed hundreds of people, and torched numerous schools and public buildings.
In July, Cameroon authorities accused the Red Dragons of kidnapping at least 63 schoolchildren for defying rebel demands that state schools should remain closed.
Cameroon's military said it freed the children unharmed.
Governor of Cameroon's southwest region, Bernard Okalia Bilai, said the military will track down the rebels and free those who were abducted Saturday. He encouraged the population to stay calm and to collaborate with the military to stop the bloodshed and pain caused by separatist fighters.
Cameroon authorities said since the separatist conflict broke out in 2017, hundreds of traditional rulers have fled their village palaces in anglophone western regions.
The rebels have abducted and beaten scores of village chiefs who attempted to return for collaborating with the central government, according to officials. While some chiefs paid ransom for their freedom, Cameroon officials said the rebels have killed at least 12 of them.
The United Nations said at least 3,000 people have been killed and 550,000 displaced since Cameroon's separatist conflict began in 2016.