At least 25 people were abducted during a week of attacks by armed men in western Cameroon, local officials said Thursday.
The kidnappings by gang members took place in several villages in Ako district along the Nigerian border, Patrick Kernyuy Tah, the top official in Ako, said.
“Several hundred people fled the attacks by unidentified gunmen in Abafum, Akwancha and Abutu villages,” he said. The government has deployed the military to rescue those abducted and help the injured, he said.
Local residents have been calling on Cameroon authorities to increase security in the area, as armed gangs operate on both sides of the border. While it’s unclear who is responsible for the abductions, officials believe it could be ethnic Fulani herders from Nigeria, a largely Muslim semi-nomadic group who regularly cross into Cameroon with their cattle and clash with farmers.
The Central African nation has been plagued by fighting since English-speaking separatists launched a rebellion in 2017, with the stated goal of breaking away from the area dominated by the French-speaking majority country and setting up an independent, English-speaking state. The government has accused the separatists of committing atrocities against civilians. The conflict has killed more than 3,300 people and displaced more than 750,000 others, according to the U.N.
Ako, where the abductions took place, hasn’t been prone to attacks and many people fleeing the separatist violence have sought refuge there.
Those who fled the fighting, which began last week, said people were tortured if they refused to give the attackers money, while many were taken away from their families.
“I am not very concerned about the several bags of rice which were looted from my shop. My main worry is the whereabouts of my two children,” said Cyprain Meme. “I do not know if they are hiding in the bush or if they were abducted.”