Police and the military in Cameroon have shot dead at least seven Anglophone people as members of the community continue protesting for independence from the majority Francophone nation.
The unrest took place Sunday on the anniversary of Anglophone Cameroon’s independence from Britain in the country’s English-speaking regions.
Five prisoners were killed in the jail where they were being held in the town of Kumbo. Donatus Njong Fonyuy, mayor of the town said a fire erupted in the jail and soldiers shot dead five prisoners at around 6 a.m. (0500 GMT).
“We don’t know what caused the fire in the prison ... But five prisoners were killed by soldiers. Two were wounded by bullets and are at the hospital,” said the official, adding that two civilians were also injured in the incident.
Reports said soldiers shot dead a demonstrator in the same town after he attempted to raise the blue and white flag of the Ambazonia separatist movement in the local chief’s palace. Two demonstrators who had raised the flag were also shot and wounded around midday.
Security forces attempted to block pro-independence marchers from entering the city of Buea, a major hub of protests. Witnesses said one protester was killed in the clashes on the edge of the city.
A similar protest was held in Bamenda where young men brandishing improvised secessionist flags clashed with security forces. Police used tear gas to disperse protesters trying to march on the regional governor’s office. There was no account of casualties in Bamenda.
Security was high in Buea and Bamenda as military helicopters circled overhead and businesses remained shuttered for the entire day. Troops from the Cameroonian army’s Rapid Intervention Brigade, a unit known for its fight against the militants of Nigeria-based Boko Haram group, were also deployed in the two cities. There were also reports of gunfire although it was not clear whether they targeted the protesters or were only fired in the air.
In anticipation of the protests in English-speaking regions, authorities had ordered Cameroon’s border with Nigeria closed for the weekend. All gatherings of more than four people had been banned and movement between different parts of the region had been forbidden.
Police and the military have yet to comment on the shootings that led to deaths Sunday. A security source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said security forces were taking restraint in dealing with the fresh bout of violence.
“We won’t use violence unless there is major cause. There are numerous risks, even terrorist risks. We’re keeping calm,” said the source.
The months-long protests are viewed as a sign of increasing dissatisfaction with President Paul Biya’s 35-year rule.
Biya said the acts of violence, “regardless of their source and their perpetrators”, were deplorable.
“Let me make this very clear: it is not forbidden to voice any concerns in the Republic. However, nothing great can be achieved by using verbal excesses, street violence, and defying authority,” the president wrote on his official Facebook account.
Cameroon, a former German colony under the name of Kamerun, was divided between the allied French and British victors at the end of World War One.