Soldiers shot dead at least eight people and wounded others in Cameroon’s restless English-speaking regions on Sunday during protests by activists calling for its independence from the majority Francophone nation, an official and witnesses said.
The demonstrations - timed to take place on the anniversary of Anglophone Cameroon’s independence from Britain - came as a months-old movement against perceived marginalization by the Francophone-dominated government gathered pace.
The protests, which began late last year, have become a lightning rod for opposition to President Paul Biya’s 35-year rule.
Donatus Njong Fonyuy, mayor of the town of Kumbo, said five prisoners were killed at around 6 a.m. (0500 GMT) after the jail where they were being held caught fire.
“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,” he told Reuters, adding that another two civilians were also injured.
In other incidents in Kumbo, soldiers shot and killed a demonstrator and wounded two others who had raised the blue and white flag of the Ambazonia separatist movement in the town. Another woman was killed inside her home, Fonyuy said, without giving further details.
Police and army officials were not immediately available to comment on the shootings.
“We won’t use violence unless there is major cause. There are numerous risks, even terrorist risks. We’re keeping calm,” a security source, who declined to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to journalists, said earlier in the day.
Writing on his official Facebook account, President Biya condemned the violence.
“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,” he said.
Cameroon’s divide has its roots in the end of World War One, when the League of Nations divided the former German colony of Kamerun between the allied French and British victors.