Four Cameroon soldiers killed in restive anglophone region

Yaoundé (AFP) –


Four Cameroonian soldiers were killed by suspected separatists in a restive English-speaking region early Wednesday, army and government sources said.

"Four soldiers were killed around 2:00 am around Mamfe," a city in the country's Southwest Region, according to an army source.

"They murdered our soldiers. If that's not terrorism, what is it?" the source said angrily.

The deaths were confirmed by a government source, though the circumstances were not given.

The bloodshed is the latest episode in an escalating crisis in the Southwest and Northwest regions, home to a large minority of English-speakers in the francophone-majority nation.

Eight members of the security forces have been killed this month alone.

Resentment among anglophones over perceived discrimination has fed a spiral of political demands and also a government crackdown, leading to calls for secession.

On October 1, a breakaway movement issued a symbolic declaration of independence for their putative state of "Ambazonia," led by Sisiku Ayuk Tabe.

On November 24, it announced that an "interim government" had been set up.

A video, broadcast on social media, also showed the movement's "commander in chief," Ayaba Lucas Cho, reviewing a group of men in combat dress.

President Paul Biya fiercely opposes secession or a return to Cameroon's former federal structure.

The campaign against the separatists has led to night-time curfews, restrictions on movement, raids and body searches, as well as an attempt by the central government in Yaounde to reach out to the anglophone community for political dialogue.

At least 14 civilians have died, as well as five prisoners who were killed while trying to escape jail, according to a toll compiled by AFP.

International monitors, in contrast, say at least 20 and possibly 40 people have been killed since late September.

The government, for its part, puts forward a toll of 10 to 12 dead.

On October 19, the International Crisis Group (ICG), a Brussels-based think tank, said that the authorities had a policy of "murder repression" and that "secessionist ranks are growing by the day."

English-speakers comprise about a fifth of the country's 22 million people.

The anglophone presence in Cameroon is rooted in the colonial past of West Africa.

France and Britain divided up the former German colony under League of Nations mandates after World War I.

A year after the French-ruled territory became independent in 1961, the southern part of British Cameroons was integrated into a federal system.

That structure was scrapped 11 years later in favour of a "united republic".