BAMENDA, CAMEROON - Movement in Cameroon’s two English-speaking regions remains restricted following deadly unrest Sunday as activists took to the streets demanding independence. Local media report as many as a dozen people were gunned down by security forces.
An uneasy calm reigned Monday in Bamenda, a city of a half million in northwestern Cameroon.
Reverend Edward Njini said just a handful of people came to his morning service.
"A few people came for worship and then we read the communique from the governor. And so we just prayed with them, explained the thing and asked them to go home and stay and worship at home," Njini said.
The military was deployed to Bamenda and other towns to stop anglophone separatist groups from declaring independence on October 1st as threatened.
Under government restrictions, no one can enter or leave the northwest and southwest regions of the country. Within those regions, people cannot move outside in groups of more than three.
However on Sunday, tens of thousands of people across the two English-speaking zones defied the restrictions and came out to rally for independence.
Separatist groups did not declare independence, but their supporters hoisted the blue and white flag of their would-be nation, called Ambazonia, in road junctions and some public buildings.
They met stiff resistance from the military.
A woman shouted for help at Nanga junction, a neighborhood in Bamenda. She said the military was throwing tear gas and beating people indiscriminately.
She told VOA that after a teenage boy was beaten to death, the population blocked roads so military vehicles could not continue to enter their neighborhood. She said those who defied the order to stay at home were being arrested.
The government has acknowledged people were killed but did not give figures. The military says at least 40 people have been arrested.
In Bamenda Monday, soldiers continued sealing what they called suspected neighborhoods and arresting more people.
In the northwestern town of Kumbo, the government says three prisoners who attempted to escape were killed by the military. The government said the prison had been set on fire by prisoners.
Rights group worries
Amnesty International says the reports of protesters shot dead by security forces are “worrying” and urged the government to lift restrictions on freedom of movement and assembly.
John Fru Ndi, leader of Cameroon’s main opposition political party, the SDF, has condemned the violence.
"I don't want bloodshed. I don't want destruction, I have never wanted it. For them to react in the way they are reacting is because they have been pushed to the wall," NDI said.
President Paul Biya responded to the unrest on Twitter and Facebook, saying he strongly condemned all acts of violence, “regardless of their sources and their perpetrators” and calling for “peaceful dialogue.”
Back in the capital, Yaounde, and major towns in the French-speaking regions, rallies are being held to denounce separatist groups.
Lawmaker Tabe Tando from the English-speaking southwest read a declaration at a large rally in Yaounde Sunday.
"The members of parliament outrightly condemn any action aimed at destabilizing our beloved and beautiful country, reaffirm their attachment to a Cameroon which is one and indivisible as enshrined in the constitution, express their brotherly solidarity to the populations of the northwest and southwest regions, victims of the unscrupulous acts of enemies of the fatherland and peace," Tando said.
The separatist groups say the country’s English-speaking minority has been marginalized by French-speakers.
President Biya has said he is not open to any negotiation on the form of the state, and that Cameroon is one and indivisible.