Cameroon’s army on Monday explained the incident in which 22 civilians were killed in the Northwest region, described it as an “unfortunate accident” caused by an explosion of fuel during a firefight.
Opposition parties had accused the army of orchestrating a massacre, but army spokesman Colonel Cyrille Atonfack Guemo described the allegations as “duplicitous”.
The United Nations said up to 22 civilians, 14 of them children, died in Friday’s incident, which happened in in the village of Ntumbo in Cameroon’s Northwest Region, one of two English-speaking regions that have been grappling with separatist violence since October
An army investigation, he said, found that the deaths happened after fuel was set ablaze during a gunfight with anglophone separatists.
Five civilians, a woman and four children, died, and “seven terrorists” were “neutralised”, Atonfack told AFP in Libreville by phone.
More than 3,000 people have died and at least 700,000 have fled their homes.
“It was quite simply an unfortunate accident, the collateral result of security operations in the region,” Atonfack said in a statement.
He said four soldiers and two gendarmes had been carrying out nighttime reconnaissance on foot near a home that had been “transformed into a fortress” with a stockpile of weapons.
They came under heavy fire, and exchanges caused “several containers of fuel to explode, followed by a blaze which spread several neighbouring homes”, Atonfack said.
Defense Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Rene Claude Meke said told state broadcaster CRTV the military has been professional in its fight against the separatists.
“We need of the support of the population in these difficult moments,” he said. “They should come to us, inform us and strictly respect orders and advice we give to them so that this crisis which has overstayed should come to an end.”