AKUM, Cameroon – Armed Anglophone separatists burned buses and blocked traffic into and out of the capital of the English-speaking northwest region, Cameroon's military said Sunday, and it deployed additional troops.
Separatists said the action in Bamenda is meant to disrupt next month's presidential election as they say voting cannot take place in what they call the independent state of Ambazonia. The months of deadly unrest in Cameroon's northwest and southwest pose a serious challenge to 85-year-old President Paul Biya, who has been in power since 1982 and is running again.
One traveler, 22-year-old student Philip Njie, said scores of gunmen ordered him and others out of a bus bound for the capital, Yaounde, late Saturday. They were "ready to shoot at anyone who disrespected them so we were very scared," he said.
Another traveler, Philomena Ngwang, said they were threatened by a man with a "very, very large extravagant gun" and told to remove the colors representing Cameroon's flag from their identity cards.
Gen. Agha Robinson, who commands the troops in the northwest, says separatists seized road construction equipment to dig up roads and destroy buses before fleeing.
"There is an operation to dislodge these terrorists to make sure weapons are seized," Robinson said.
At least 20 of the 70-seat buses were lined up in the nearby village of Akum on Sunday, with some of their roofs smashed in by the heavy equipment, as military personnel helped the scattered travelers track down their luggage.
The government has sought to assure voters in the region that they will be protected.
The unrest began in November 2016 when English-speaking teachers and lawyers in the northwest and southwest began calling for reforms and greater autonomy in the largely French-speaking country. They marched in the streets, criticizing what they called the marginalization of English speakers by French speakers.
Separatists later took over the protests and demanded independence for the English-speaking regions.
The United Nations has said 300 people have been killed and hundreds of thousands have fled, with about 20,000 crossing into Nigeria.
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