BUEA, CAMEROON - People are deserting the English-speaking regions of Cameroon after hundreds of armed separatists and the military were involved in Tuesday's bloody conflicts in five towns and villages leaving at least 15 people dead. Residents complain that the army was slow in responding to simultaneous attacks by the separatists.
Intensive shooting between an unknown number of armed separatists and at least 50 soldiers of the Rapid Intervention Battalion, BIR, an elite corps of Cameroon's military is going on at Mile 16, Bolifamba, a neighborhood in the southwestern town of Buea.
As the military shoots, some of the troops clear the wreckage of vehicles, abandoned containers, trees and heavy metals that the armed separatists are said to have used in blocking all entrances into the town before the military arrived. The military said the attackers also burned vehicles, houses and shops.
Some residents are rushing to various destinations, including the bush.
Businessman Peter Bongkiyung, 24, says he saw two corpses, including that of a soldier, and no longer feels safe in the town.
"I am still believing that, come whatever, I have to go," he said.
Jenine Ita, a 47-year-old jurist working in the town, is also leaving with her three children and wounded husband. She says the armed men invaded Mile 16 as early as 5 a.m. Tuesday, blocking the road and setting some transport buses on fire. Ita said she was surprised that the military, stationed at various entrances to the town, came late.
"We cannot continue living in such an environment where you cannot trust your neighbor. Where are the armed men coming from? How do they get into town without the knowledge of the military?" she said.
Similar simultaneous attacks were reported in four other villages in the Northwest and Southwest regions including Bamenda. Mamfe and Wum.
Bernard Okalia Bilai, governor of the Southwest region, said he is pleading with the separatists to drop their guns and stop the carnage. He said next month's presidential election should offer an opportunity for them to democratically express their views should they be disgruntled with the government.
"The presidential election is a very important moment for all the countries in the world and the southwest should not miss to be fully involved in the presidential election on October 7. We should stop the killings, the kidnappings, the disturbances and all the nuisance that the present crisis has brought in our region," he said.
The government has been assuring voters that they will be protected.
Unrest in Cameroon began in November 2016, when English-speaking teachers and lawyers demonstrated against the overbearing use of the French language. Separatists took over and started demanding the independence of the English-speaking from the French-speaking regions of the bilingual country.
Last Saturday, armed Anglophone separatists burned buses and blocked traffic into and out of the capital of the English-speaking Northwest region and said the action in Bamenda was to disrupt next month's presidential election.
The United Nations reports that 300 people including 130 policemen and the military have been killed, hundreds of thousands have fled for their lives to the bushes and towns in the French-speaking regions. At least 20,000 have crossed over to Nigeria.