YAOUNDE, CAMEROON —
Renewed fighting has killed 69 people in English-speaking regions of Cameroon, where armed separatists have ordered people to stay inside their homes as the country prepares to celebrate its national youth day.
February 11 coincides with the 1961 plebiscite, which separatists identify as the day their English-speaking territory was handed to the French-speaking majority.
Patients writhe and scream on the floor and get little medical attention at Saint Mary Clinic, a private hospital in Cameroon's English-speaking coastal city of Limbe. Nurse Frederick Mengoli says they were dumped there on Friday night by the Cameroon military.
"This morning, the military brought 11 wounded patients and we can not take care of them because our staff is not present and we do not have the necessary drugs to take care of them," said Mengoli. "We are just going to clean their wounds. It is very serious situation."
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Fighting has been going on since Tuesday, February 5 in the English-speaking southwestern towns of Limbe, Buea, Mutengene, Kumba, Mamfe and Tombel, as well as in the northwestern towns of Bamenda, Kumbo, Ndop, Nkambe, Bafut and Kom. That's when armed separatists began what they call a 10-day lockdown, banning many activities in the war-torn Anglophone regions through February 14.
They say the ban is intended to disrupt National Youth Day activities to be celebrated on February 11.
Here in Buea, hundreds of students from the town's university are shouting as they return home after being forcefully removed from their hostels by the military and locked up for several hours. The military said by staying at home, they were following the separatists instead of obeying government instructions to continue with their activities.
Nineteen-year-old journalism student Edmond Mbella says they cannot continue their studies because their lives are being threatened by the separatists.
"Even the soldiers who are well armed, well trained with sophisticated weapons are being killed, but they [the government] want us to go out. We will not," said Mbella. "Who will be able to protect us when the soldiers can not protect themselves?"
Some of the students remained in detention. The government says at least six military, 47 armed separatists and 16 civilians have been killed. The separatists say on social media they have killed more troops than the government is reporting.
Deben Tchoffo, governor of the English-speaking northwest region, says troops will continue attacking and killing the armed fighters who disturb the public peace.
"Those that will continue to challenge the state, our security, and furthermore the population, are going to be treated accordingly. Soonest, the situation will come back to normalcy in our region," said Tchoffo.
Cameroon celebrates youth day every year to encourage young people to renounce violence and other negative behavior.
February 11 was chosen because it coincides with the day in 1961 when the United Nations organized a plebiscite in the southern and northern parts of the British-administered trust territory in Cameroon.
The northern part voted to have independence by joining the Federal Republic of Nigeria, while the southern part, today known as the English-speaking regions of Cameroon, voted to have independence by joining French-speaking Cameroon.
Since then, English-speaking Cameroonians have been complaining the U.N.-sponsored plebiscite did not give them a third option: to have an independent state on its own.
This resulted in an armed insurgency that started in the English-speaking regions in November 2017, after separatists declared the independence of a nation they called "Ambazonia" complaining minority anglophones were being systematically marginalized in the largely French-speaking country.