Two policemen were killed Thursday in a Cameroon region roiled by separatist violence, three days after dozens of activists were extradited from neighbouring Nigeria, sources said.
“Armed separatists this morning attacked a checkpoint” in the village of Bingo, in the country’s Northwest Region, according to a source familiar with military activity in the area.
“Two wounded gendarmes were taken to hospital, where they died of their injuries,” the source said.
The assault marked the first casualties among the security forces in the troubled region since Nigeria on Monday extradited 47 separatists, including their self-proclaimed president, Sisiku Ayuk Tabe.
The separatists previously warned the extradition would lead to an escalation.
“The abduction (of Ayuk Tabe) is throwing petrol on the flames of the revolution,” Chris Anu, a member of the self-described “government”, told AFP.
The separatists are demanding independence for two regions that are home to most of the country’s anglophones, who account for about a fifth of the population.
Their campaign draws on widespread resentment over perceived discrimination at the hands of Cameroon’s French-speaking majority.
On October 1 last year, the breakaway movement issued a symbolic declaration of independence for “Ambazonia,” their name for the putative state.
Cameroon’s president, Paul Biya, has responded with a crackdown, including curfews, raids and restrictions on travel.
His government has also forged closer cooperation with Nigeria, where around 30,000 Cameroonians have sought refuge from the violence.
On Wednesday, local sources and state officials in the southeastern Nigerian state of Cross River said Cameroonian soldiers had crossed the border, where they were among displaced people.
Amnesty International has expressed concern about the fate of the arrested separatists, saying they could face torture and an unfair trial.
The separatists’ lawyers say that they have tried since Monday to meet them. The group is reputedly being held at the headquarters of the gendarmerie in Yaounde.
The anglophone minority in Cameroon is a legacy of the colonial period in Africa.
France and Britain divided up the former German colony under League of Nations mandates after World War I.
A year after the French-ruled territory became independent in 1961, the southern part of British Cameroons was integrated into a federal system, scrapped 11 years later for a “united republic”.
Cameroon is due to hold general elections, including for the presidency, this year. Observers say the ballot could be badly affected by the crisis in the English-speaking regions.