Bangourain — Authorities in Cameroon say hundreds of people have fled villages in a French-speaking region after suspected Anglophone separatists abducted 15 people and torched 80 houses.
The French-speaking villages of Menkefou and Choupat in western Cameroon are almost empty.
An attack by suspected Anglophone separatists early Monday sent hundreds of villagers fleeing for safety.
Fifty year old Constantine Njowir, a Menkefou militia member, says he was lucky to get away with only a machete wound to his leg.
He says he watched helplessly as one of his militia members died after he was inflicted wounds on his chest and stomach with knives and machetes. He says besides burning houses the fighters were shooting indiscriminately and taking along people who resisted.
Njowir says the armed men shouted demands that the government release all arrested English-speaking Cameroonians or pay the price.
Elvis Suinyuy, a government teacher in the village of Choupat, says the men threatened to return if Anglophone leaders were not freed.
"They were young boys carrying guns, shooting. One man was killed. As you can see many of the people around have gone away because they have promised us that they are going to come back so we do not know their next plan," Suinyuy said. "If the government is not there to help us, there will be a serious catastrophe."
Governor of the western region Augustine Awah Fonka says there were more than 300 armed men involved in the attack. He says they abducted 15 people and torched houses, cars and motor cycles, and looted property.
"More than 86 houses have been destroyed by unidentified gun men made up of mostly young men and women who appeared in this village and destroyed houses and properties, had the population beaten and left them in pain, poverty, and traumatized," Fonka said. "I want to assure them that the government is going to redress the situation. More military men will be deployed to take care of the population."
The government blamed Anglophone separatists in the neighboring northwest region for the attack, and said they appeared to be men fleeing from military raids. Cameroon's separatists did not issue any immediate response to the accusation.
It is the second time the Bangourain region where the villages are located was attacked.
The government deployed the military and asked communities near separatist areas to create village militias for self defense.
Cameroon's English-speaking separatists have been protesting since 2016 against discrimination by the French-speaking majority.
Their protests were initially peaceful but, in response to a government crackdown, some separatists are waging a violent campaign for independence.
The insurgency gained pace in 2017when leader JuliusAyukTabewas arrested in Nigeria with 46 collaborators and extradited to Cameroon.
They face a possible death penalty in Cameroon on charges of secession, terrorism and attempting to destabilize the country.
Cameroon President Paul Biya earlier this month ordered the release of 289 English-speaking people arrested for supporting the separatists.
While the gesture of reconciliation received widespread praise, the separatists continue to demand Biya release all of their leaders.