Cameroon’s army on Monday denied allegations from local media and aid groups that it had killed civilians during a raid in the country’s anglophone Southwest region, saying the dead were “terrorists.”
Army spokesman Cyrille Serge Atonfack Guemo nevertheless said in a statement that “a scrupulous investigation has been ordered to uncover every detail” of the events on Sunday.
During a “preventive” raid on “terrorist groups’ positions” in Mautu, in the Southwest region, “armed individuals… immediately opened fire” on the soldiers, who “inflicted an appropriate response on them,” Atonfack said. “Several terrorists were neutralized, others wounded or put to flight,” he added.
Following the raid, images claiming to show civilian victims had been posted to social media. While none have so far been verified or dated, some aid groups and local online media have alleged the soldiers “massacred” 10 civilians including at least one woman and one child, without citing evidence.
Military kills at least 8 people at Mautu village, Fako
In fresh video footages that emerged after the incident, several young persons could be seen lying down in cold blood most of them having deep wounds on the head.
— Mimi Mefo Info (@MimiMefoInfo) January 10, 2021
“Terrorist leaders… have come up with a jumble of macabre images to try and lay the blame on our defense forces for a massacre in Mautu,” Atonfack said.
Mostly populated by an English-speaking minority, Cameroon’s Northwest and Southwest regions have for over three years been the theater of a bloody conflict between armed groups fighting for independence and government forces.
Civilians are often caught up in the fighting, suffering at the hands of both sides, international aid groups and the UN say.
So far more than 3,000 people have died and more than 700,000 have fled their homes during the conflict.
On December 17, three soldiers went on trial in capital Yaounde for the murder of 13 civilians including 10 children in February 2020, but the hearing immediately adjourned.
The government of 87-year-old President Paul Biya had long denied the troops’ responsibility, while the army claimed the deaths happened in an “unfortunate accident” when a fuel tank exploded during a firefight with “terrorists.”
Outrage and international pressure ultimately pushed the government to arrest the three men, accused of flouting rules of engagement and covering up the crime in their official report.