Yaounde, Cameroon — Cameroon's military says it has killed scores of armed separatists in clashes this month and at least 15 have surrendered. The rebels, who vowed to disrupt March senate elections in Cameroon's western regions, claim to have killed scores of government troops.
Ndop district residents in Cameroon's restive Northwest region say seven bodies were found in bushes Tuesday morning, following heavy fighting between separatist rebels and government troops.
Ndop businessman Anyam Edison Penn said the clashes halted trade in Ngoketunjia, where Ndop is located. He spoke to VOA from Ndop via a messaging app.
"For the past weeks fighting in Ngoketunjia has been very very intensive between the separatists and the defense forces, and this has been affecting so many lives, so many persons killed and it has been a burden on our side," Penn said. "Thousands of people were like they were in a cage. I pray and hope that the crisis will be resolved so that we, the civilians, should not be suffering like this."
Cameroon's Anglophone separatists have vowed to disrupt the March 12 elections for Senate and last month killed two election officials.
Cameroon's government said at least 15 rebel fighters were killed in ongoing clashes this month around Ndop while the military said it killed at least 30 rebels in other northwestern towns.
Cameroon's highest-ranking official in the area, Handerson Quetong Kongeh, said military raids Monday night targeted at least five separatist camps.
Capo Daniel is a spokesman and self-proclaimed deputy defense chief for one rebel group, the Ambazonia Defense Forces. He said separatists and government troops sustained casualties in this month's clashes.
"We have killed over 38 Cameroon military men since Paul Biya announced the election," Daniel said. "We have authorized our forces to carry out attacks on critical infrastructure. Our recruitments are high, our spirits are high, and we will continue to attack the Cameroon military. We have called for appropriate punishment for those who violate this ban against the election."
Cameroon's military acknowledged it took casualties in the fighting but would not give any figures and has not responded to requests for comment.
Despite the threats and ongoing clashes, Cameroon officials say election preparations will continue.
The military said about 15 rebels surrendered and were handed to Cameroon's centers for Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR).
DDR country director Francis Fai Yengo said one of the rebels who surrendered was a self-proclaimed general.
Yengo spoke Monday to state broadcaster Cameroon Radio Television.
"We continue to call on those misguided youths that are still in the bush, that are still reluctant to come out to forget about the past and seize the opportunity President Paul Biya has offered to come out of the bushes and make sure that this adventure which they undertook never repeats itself again in our country," he said.
Yengo said the DDR centers offer social and jobs skills training to help former rebel fighters reintegrate.
The separatist conflict broke out in 2016 when Anglophone Cameroonians protested discrimination by the Francophone majority.
Cameroon's military responded with a crackdown and rebels took up arms with the aim of carving out an independent state they call Ambazonia.
The U.N. says fighting has since killed at least 3,500 people and displaced 750,000.
Canada, which is attempting to negotiate an end to the conflict, says more than 6,000 people have been killed and the unrest has deprived 600,000 children of education.