Soldiers freed several hostages in western Cameroon, including a presidential party senator, kidnapped a month ago, and killed a dozen of their suspected kidnappers, English-speaking armed separatists, the army said on Tuesday.
Elizabeth Regina Mundi, 79, and her driver were kidnapped on April 30 by rebels demanding independence for the northwest and southwest regions, which are mainly populated by the English-speaking minority in a predominantly French-speaking country.
In an army operation against "a terrorist hideout" on Monday evening in Ashong, in the North West, "several hostages were freed, including the senator", the army said in a statement, adding: "a military detachment was attempting an approach to the hideout when "heavily armed terrorists opened heavy fire (...) while their comrades tried to escape with the hostages".
"A dozen terrorists were neutralised", according to the authorities' terminology for the pro-independence militants who were killed. No word on the number or identity of the other "freed" hostages has been released.
The separatist conflict erupted in 2017 in both regions after the government cracked down on demonstrations demanding equal treatment and more autonomy for anglophones, some of whom feel ostracised by the 89-year-old President Paul Biya, who has ruled Cameroon for nearly 40 years.
The war has killed more than 6,000 people and displaced about a million in five years, according to the International Crisis Group (ICG).
Last January, the body of an opposition senator, lawyer Henry Kemende, was found riddled with bullets in Bamenda after his car was attacked and disappeared. The authorities blamed separatists, but the murder was never claimed.
Immediately after her abduction, Ms. Mundi appeared on a video posted on social networks reading, obviously under duress, a text in English calling for independence, in front of the flags of the Ambazonian Defence Forces (ADF) and the "Republic of Ambazonia" self-proclaimed on October 1, 2017, by separatists in the South-West and North-West regions.
Her kidnapping was claimed by two rebel groups, including the ADF, one demanding a ransom, the other the release of prisoners, a senior security official assured AFP on condition of anonymity.
Senator Mundi, a native of the North West, is a member of the political bureau of Mr Biya's Cameroon People's Democratic Movement (CPDM).