Gunmen in military uniforms kill 22 in Cameroon, separatists blame army

A UN official said that 14 of the dead were children, some of whom were under five and that at least 600 people fled.
Cameroon’s army forces patrol on Febuary 16, 2015 near the village of Mabass, northern Cameroon. Cameroon’s army announced on February 17, 2014 having killed 86 Boko Haram militants and detained 1,000 people suspected of links to the Islamist group, as central African leaders held talks on how to combat its bloody insurgency. Five Cameroonian soldiers were also killed during the clashes in the Waza region near the border with Nigeria, defence ministry spokesman said. AFP PHOTO REINNIER KAZE (Photo by Reinnier KAZE / AFP)

Armed men in military uniforms and masks have killed 22 people in a village at the heart of a separatist insurgency in western Cameroon, shooting women and children and burning others in their homes, the United Nations said on Monday.

Survivors “were extremely shocked and traumatized. People just left their houses and left everything behind,” said James Nunan, an official with the U.N. humanitarian coordination agency OCHA that conducted interviews with witnesses and survivors.

Nunan said that 14 of the dead were children, some of whom were under five. At least 600 people fled, he said.

It was not yet clear who was responsible for Friday’s attack in Ntumbo in the northwest region of Cameroon near the Nigerian border, a Reuters report said.

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In a statement, separatists blamed the army. In its own the statement, the army denied wrongdoing.

Cameroonian refugees, including women and children gather for a meeting at Bashu-Okpambe village in Boki district of Cross Rivers State in Nigeria, on January 31, 2018. – Cameroonian forces have crossed into neighbouring Nigeria to conduct operations among citizens, where thousands of people have fled from Cameroon’s restive anglophone regions, local sources and state officials said January 31, 2018. (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP)

The type of attack, with people being burned alive and shot, echoes other raids that witnesses told Reuters were committed by the military. The army has denied involvement in those raids.

The government said on Monday that its soldiers were on a reconnaissance mission in Ntumbo when they were attacked. The fighting that followed caused several fuel containers to explode and set nearby houses ablaze, it said, killing five civilians.

“In light of the methodically and professionally cross-checked information, it is simply an accident, collateral damage of the operations to restore security in the region,” the government said in a statement.

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The separatists said at least 35 civilians were killed in what they called a “violation of the human rights of the Ambazonian people.”

Cameroon’s army has since 2017 been fighting English-speaking militias seeking to form a breakaway state called Ambazonia amid the cocoa farms and forests of west Cameroon. As fighting has intensified, so have abuses by both sides, witnesses and rights groups say.

(FILES) In this file photo taken on October 03, 2018, an armoured pick up of the Cameroonian Army patrols the market of the majority English-speaking South West province capital Buea, during a political rally of the ruling CPDM, Cameroon Pepole’s Democratic Movement of incumbent President Paul Biya. (Photo by MARCO LONGARI / AFP)

The fighting is the gravest threat to stability in the oil- and cocoa-producing country since President Paul Biya took power nearly 40 years ago.

Conflict between Cameroon’s army and English-speaking militias began after the government cracked down violently on peaceful protesters by lawyers and teachers in 2016 complaining of being marginalised by the French-speaking majority.

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Violence spiked again in the run-up to parliamentary elections on Feb. 9, rights groups said, including the burning of houses.

Nearly 8,000 Cameroon refugees fled to eastern and southern Nigeria in the first two weeks of February, the United Nations refugee agency said, adding to the more than half a million people who have already left.

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