Small children were among at least 22 people killed in weekend fighting between separatists and the military in Cameroon, residents said.
The government acknowledged some of the deaths occurred when a fuel tank exploded in the fighting, causing a fire that burned homes and killed a woman and four children.
Civilians have suffered for years in the conflict between separatists and the military in the Central African nation’s English-speaking North West and South West regions.
The latest deaths occurred in the village of Ngarbu, residents said.
Fleeing villagers said they saw armed men dressed in Cameroon military uniforms carrying out the latest attack.
Cameroon’s government said that eight members of the security forces carried out a raid in Ngarbu the night of February 14 against separatists.
Defence Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Rene Claude Meke told state broadcaster CRTV the military has been professional in its fight against the separatists.
“We need the support of the population in these difficult moments,” he said. “They should come to us, inform us and strictly respect orders and advice we give to them so that this crisis which has overstayed should come to an end.”
They should come to us, inform us and strictly respect orders and advice we give to them so that this crisis which has overstayed should come to an end
In January, Cameroon said it deployed at least 1,000 additional troops to the English-speaking regions ahead of the February 9 local council and parliamentary elections that separatist fighters had vowed to disrupt. Since then, there have been several attacks on suspected separatist strongholds.
The United Nations humanitarian office in Cameroon has called for immediate investigations into the latest attacks. Human Rights Watch has blamed both government troops and separatist fighters for gross human rights violations in the conflict.
The unrest broke out in English-speaking regions in 2016, when teachers and lawyers protested the dominance of the French language and French-speaking officials. Rebels took up arms a year later, demanding a separate English-speaking state.
Some civilians have fled the clashes, saying they don’t believe the government can protect them.