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Cameroon probes deadly unrest in restive anglophone region

Cameroon has opened a probe into recent deadly violence linked to a symbolic declaration of independence in the west African nation's English-speaking region, the defence minister said Friday.

“Apart from the material damage, precise enquiries have been opened by judicial authorities on the toll,” Defence Minister Joseph Beti Assomo said on state radio.

According to an AFP tally, 14 people died in violence ahead of the symbolic October 1 declaration of independence of Ambazonia, the name of the state the separatists want to create.

But Amnesty International said Friday that “at least 500 people remained detained …packed like sardines in overcrowded prisons” after “mass arbitrary arrests” in the anglophone regions, and reported that “more than 20 people were unlawfully shot dead” by security forces.

“Security forces including the army ….have also used unnecessary or excessive force when conducting arrests, and have destroyed property and looted belongings,” it said.

Government spokesman Issa Tchiroma Bakary has said 10 people died, and the authorities claim that security forces did not open fire during the demonstrations.

Assomo had on Thursday visited Buea, the main city in the English-speaking southwest region, where he headed a meeting to review security.

“The defence and security forces carried out their task in a responsible manner without losing their cool,” he said.

On Friday, the Social Democratic Front (SDF), the country’s main opposition party, said it would organise a march in Douala, Cameroon’s economic hub, on October 21 in solidarity with the English-speaking regions, and claimed live bullets had been fired.

The march has been authorised by the authorities, AFP confirmed, a rare occurrence in the country, where street demonstrations by opposition and civic groups are systematically prohibited or suppressed.

Cameroon’s anglophone-francophone rift dates back to 1961 when the British-administered Southern Cameroons united with Cameroon after its independence from France in 1960.

English speakers complain they have suffered decades of economic inequality and social injustice at the hands of the French-speaking majority.

Anglophones account for about a fifth of the country’s population of 22 million.

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