Troops and attack helicopters opened fire on protesters at the height of separatist rallies in English-speaking areas of Cameroon over the weekend, killing and wounding people, witnesses and rights groups said.
The army dismissed the reports from sources in five towns as “completely false” and said helicopters had only been used for surveillance.
Any use of air attacks would mark a major escalation in a government crackdown on separatist protests that have been rumbling in Anglophone districts of the central African oil producer for almost a year.
Thousands took to the streets in towns across the Northwest and Southwest regions on Sunday, Oct. 1, calling for independence from the country’s French-speaking majority.
Rights groups said they started to collect reports on ensuing violence in the areas bordering Nigeria as the week progressed.
Eight people in the towns of Bamenda, Buea, Ndu, Tombel and Kumbo told Reuters that police and soldiers moved in to stop the protests and in some areas, low-flying attack helicopters fired tear gas and live rounds on the crowds.
Etienne Ndage, a 31-year-old journalist for Savannah Frontier Radio in the northwest tea-plantation town of Ndu said he saw helicopters firing at around 1 pm local time, killing two protesters as a 1,000-strong march gained momentum.
“They were firing like in a war film,” he told Reuters.
Hilary Manjong, private secretary to a local Member of Parliament in Ndu, said witnesses had shared similar accounts with him.
Army spokesman Didier Badjeck dismissed the accounts. “Reports that the helicopters fired on protestors is completely false. The helicopters were only conducting surveillance,” he said.
The government earlier this week said about 10 people had died on Sunday including five in a prison fire that may not have been linked to the protests.
The governor of Southwest region, Bernard Okalia Bilai, told the Cameroon Tribune newspaper in an article published on Tuesday that protesters had ambushed soldiers in Kumba, forcing them to open fire in self defense.