Yaounde, Cameroon — Cameroon officials say separatists resumed attacks on civilians and schools after a notorious insurgent leader and four of his collaborators were killed during a raid this week.
The military said the slain rebel leader, known as Bitter Kola, was behind many atrocities, including the October 2020 murder of seven students at Mother Teresa College in Kumba.
Military officials reported on Tuesday that Kola was among five rebels killed in a raid on their hideout in Mofako Butu, a village near Kumba in the South West region.
Chamberlin Ntou'ou Ndong, the most senior Cameroon government official in the Meme district, where Kumba is located, said Kola and his fighters had torched several dozen schools, killed an unknown number of civilians and government troops, and abducted scores of others for ransom.
Separatists acknowledged that Kola and four of his close collaborators were killed. They said on social media platforms that at least seven Cameroon government troops also died in the raid.
The government denied any troop casualties.
Capo Daniel, leader of the Ambazonia Peoples Rights Advocacy Platform, one of Cameroon's separatist groups, said he is unhappy with the Cameroon military for displaying Kola's body at a market square.
"We want to condemn the current practice of the Cameroon government of desecrating the bodies of dead soldiers," Daniel said. "These are war crimes and are against the Geneva convention."
The Cameroon government said Kola imposed a lockdown in the South West region to protest educational establishments reopening for the 2023-24 school year. Officials said that after the lockdown was imposed, separatists started attacking and killing civilians who defied the order.
The government said that separatists killed several dozen civilians within the past three weeks. Among them were four people shot dead in the state-run agriculture company PAMOL's camp at Lobe, in the South West region.
Gabriel Mbene Vefonge, president of the Cameroon Agricultural and Allied Workers Trade Union, said fighters should stop attacking civilians who go to work to make money, take care of their families and contribute to the growth of Cameroon.
"It is inhuman, barbaric and horrific," he said. "It is inadmissible and unacceptable. We call on all the authorities of this country and all other partners ... to support our opinion that this is a terrorist act and it must stop."
Cameroon's military said it is attempting to assure civilians in the volatile South West and North West regions of their safety. The military said it seized war weapons and hard drugs from fighters.
South West Governor Bernard Okalia Bilai said that troops have been stationed in all restive towns and villages and that they will rely on civilians to tell them about rebels' presence in their neighborhoods.
"We are on permanent alert," he said. "It is an asymmetric war. That is why we are inviting the population to sustain the efforts of the forces of law and order and the administration by denouncing. If the population does not denounce, it will continue and they will be the first victims. Once we are informed, we will do the rest."
Conflict sparked in Cameroon in 2016 when predominantly English-speaking western regions protested discrimination by the country's French-speaking majority. Cameroon's military responded with a crackdown, and rebels took up arms claiming to defend the English-speaking minority.
The International Crisis Group, an independent organization based in Brussels working to prevent wars and promote peace, says the conflict has killed 6,000 people and displaced 750,000.