Cameroon’s army said on Monday that it was continuing to search for a local official after separatists in a restive English-speaking region claimed to have captured him.
Namata Diteng, the deputy head of the anglophone Batibo district, has been missing since on Sunday, when his burnt-out car was found in an isolated area.
He had been meant to preside over local festivities for Cameroon Youth Day, a controversial day in the country’s two anglophone regions – in the northwest and southwest – where dozens of people have been killed since October after a violent crackdown on protests against the mainly French-speaking government.
The leader of an anglophone separatist movement, Ayaba Lucas Cho, said on social media on Sunday that his group had captured Diteng. There were numerous appeals by separatists online to “kill the prisoner” of the “colonial army”.
Army spokesperson Colonel Didier Badjeck told AFP that Cameroon forces were continuing their search for Diteng on Monday night.
Badjeck also dismissed as “fake news” a picture of a dead man circulating online that some separatists claimed was Diteng.
A week-long curfew was imposed on Saturday after separatists made threats on social media to disrupt the celebrations on February 11, the date a referendum was held in 1961 on whether the English-speaking regions would join French-speaking Cameroon.
Cameroon forces killed 23 assailants on Sunday in the southwestern village of Kembong, Badjeck said, in an attack in which three soldiers also died.
Badjeck said there was another separatist attack on a police station in Ekok, in the southwest of the country near the border with Nigeria, on Sunday night.
Members of the Cameroonian army and the Rapid Intervention Battalion (BIR) “routed the attackers”, he said, adding that “15 terrorists” were arrested in the area on Monday.
The bloodshed is the latest episode in an escalating crisis in the country’s southwest and northwest regions, 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, the separatists declared the anglophone regions as the self-proclaimed republic of “Ambazonia”, prompting a forceful reaction by the government.