Separatists from Cameroon’s Anglophone region have killed four security forces in several attacks over the past few days, the government said on Saturday, an unprecedented violent turn to a movement that risks morphing into a full blown insurgency.
A government crackdown on the separatists has killed dozens of people since October and driven many into the arms of a once-fringe separatist movement ahead of presidential elections in 2018.
It followed on from demonstrations a year ago by English-speakers in the western region bordering Nigeria against what they see as a marginalisation by the mostly French-speaking government of President Paul Biya, who has been in power for 35 years. Only a minority want to secede, however.
The secessionists have been around for decades, but operated underground and had been largely non-violent until a few weeks ago.
A spokesman for the separatists acknowledged the latest attacks but disputed details of the government account, and said five security forces had been killed.
In Saturday’s statement, Communications Minister Issa Tchiroma gave more details of the killing of two gendarmes reported on Tuesday and Wednesday, and said two further attacks on Thursday night had killed two soldiers.
Referring to attacks earlier in the week, Tchiroma said assailants armed with machetes stormed a high school in the town of Jakiri on Tuesday. The separatists are disrupting schools that teach in French.
Gendarmes arrived on the scene to stop them, but one was killed in the resultant scuffle.
Tchiroma said he was “executed”, but Cho Ayaba, a leading member of the political wing of the separatist movement who lives abroad told Reuters in Dakar by telephone that he was killed in a firefight.
Then on Wednesday, in the restive city of Bamenda, another attack left a gendarme dead, Tchiroma said. Ayaba reported two deaths of security forces in that attack.