Cameroon’s national youth holiday was marred by violence on Sunday, with three soldiers killed and a local official feared kidnapped by suspected separatists in the country’s restive English-speaking regions.
Dozens of people have been killed in the west African country’s two anglophone regions since October after a violent crackdown on protests against the mainly French-speaking government.
Authorities imposed a week-long curfew in the troubled areas on Saturday, citing fears of an “imminent” attack by separatists after numerous online threats.
Army spokesman Colonel Didier Badjeck on Sunday said the three soldiers were killed in the southwestern village of Kembong, adding that there had been some “scattered attacks”.
The separatists had made threats on social media to disrupt celebrations on February 11, the date a referendum was held in 1961 on whether the English-speaking regions would join French-speaking Cameroon.
In 1966 the government turned the day into a youth festival.
On Sunday there were also fears that the deputy head of the anglophone Batibo region, Namata Diteng, had been kidnapped after his burnt-out car was found in an isolated area.
“I do not know if he was actually kidnapped or if he was able to flee,” said local official Joseph Mbah-Ndam.
He added that the parade in Batibo for Cameroon Youth Day, which would have been organised by Diteng, did not take place.
“People have gone home in fear of possible violence in retaliation from the army,” Mbah-Ndam said.
Cameroon’s southwest and northwest regions are home to an English-speaking minority that accounts for about a fifth of the population.
Many English-speakers have accused the francophone majority of discrimination and that has fuelled a separatist movement.
In October, separatists declared the two anglophone regions as the self-proclaimed republic of “Ambazonia”, prompting a forceful reaction by the government.
Twenty-six police and soldiers have been killed in the violence, according to an AFP count based on statements given by officials in the capital Yaounde.
President Paul Biya, who has held power since 1982, on Saturday called on young Cameroonians to be “patriotic internet users” and said the situation in the anglophone areas had improved after “troubles which sometimes sparked acts of violence”.
His speech came after a string of grisly video clips circulated online alleging atrocities against separatists by Cameroonian soldiers, who have strongly denied responsibility.