KOM, CAMEROON - In Cameroon, officials say eight villages in the English-speaking northwest have been torched and hundreds of residents have fled amid clashes this week between security forces and separatist rebels.
Terence Fukah, a 33-year-old pig farmer, told VOA he fled his village of Ajin on Tuesday as the military responded to an attack by armed men.
"It was around five o'clock in the morning. I saw dead people lying down. I had to cross on top of them and run for my dear life," Fukah said.
"I don't even know where my children are. I don't even know where my wife is. I don't know how the pigs are doing, how many have died. I don't know if my own house has been burned. I am crying, crying for the government to do something."
The military says armed separatist rebels torched at least eight villages in northwest Cameroon; however, residents told VOA the fires were set by the military after the attackers had fled.
"We heard gunshots. We did not know exactly what to do. Everybody was running up and down," said Thomas Tuboh, a maize farmer from the village of Anyajua. "It was the burning that made us to know our lives were at stake, so I decided to run away from Anyajua. When the military people invaded the area, the bridges were blocked and they decided to put them down with flames."
He said his village is now nearly completely deserted.
"You see it is a farming area that helps the whole division and the region at large. I don't know how we are going to cope if this persists," Tuboh said.
General Agha Robinson, who is commanding troops in the northwest region, said his soldiers were not responsible for the burning.
The crisis began in November 2016 with a strike by Anglophone lawyers and teachers, who were demanding reforms to address what they say is the marginalization of the country's English-speaking minority by French-speakers.
The situation spiraled into all-out conflict as separatists demanded independence for the two English-speaking regions.
Thirty-eight members of the military and hundreds of rebels have been killed in the fighting, according to Cameroon's ministry of defense. The U.N. refugee agency says tens of thousands of people have fled their homes, with at least 20,000 crossing over to neighboring Nigeria in search of safety.
There appears to be little hope for dialogue. Separatists say they will not budge on secession. Meanwhile, Cameroon has refused to release dozens of detained separatist leaders, and President Paul Biya says he will entertain no talks that threaten national unity.