At least two civilians were killed on Wednesday in clashes between government forces and separatist fighters in Cameroon’s restive Anglophone region hosting Group F of Africa Cup of Nations(AFCON).
Five other persons including a lawyer were injured during the clashes that erupted around 8:35 a.m. local time in the town of Buea, chief town of the region, a local official who asked not to be named told Xinhua by phone.
There was no report on casualties in the army and the militias.
Separatist leaders released a video of the shootings on social media, saying their fighters carried out the attack to prevent the ongoing Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) from taking part in the troubled region.
The Malian national football team that was training in the stadium in the town suspended the session when the gunshots went off.
Group F of AFCON rivals including Tunisia, Mali, The Gambia and Mauritania were held their opening matches on Wednesday in the host town of Limbe, located some 20 km from Buea.
Mali and The Gambia are lodged in Buea.
Separatist leaders had maintained that no AFCON game would take place in the Anglophone region, theatre of an armed separatist conflict in the last four years.
Cameroon’s army has deployed additional ammunitions and hundreds of troops who patrol the region day and night.
In another report by Reuters, the separatists claimed they killed a soldier during an attack in Buea.
The soldier was killed by an improvised explosive device (IED) during the attack in which rebels exchanged gunfire with the army inside the city, said Cho Ayaba, the head of the rebel Ambazonia Defence Forces.
“Our forces launched an IED attack that killed one soldier. A sister force known as the Mountain Lions also engaged the military in an hour-long combat,” Ayaba told Reuters.
The aim, Ayaba said, was to disrupt preparations for two Group F games that are being played on Wednesday in Limbe, a coastal city about an hour’s drive south from Buea.
Akem Kelvin Nkwain, a human rights lawyer based in Buea, confirmed that gunmen entered the town, opened fire and used explosive devices.
Nkwain said that a taxi driver and a passenger were also killed when they were caught in the crossfire near the central market. Reuters was not able to independently verify this.
The first Group F game, between Mali and Tunisia, went ahead on Wednesday with Mali winning 1-0, and the match between Gambia and Mauritania got underway as planned.
Militias from the minority English-speaking west have been fighting since 2017 in protest against what they say is their marginalisation by the French-speaking government.
The conflict has killed at least 3,000 people and forced nearly one million to flee. Separatist and government forces have both been accused of abuses against civilians.
Henry Kemende, a prominent local senator, was shot dead on Tuesday by unknown assailants in Bamenda, the capital of the neighbouring North West region, his party said.