An American missionary gunned down in Cameroon’s northwest anglophone region was killed during clashes sparked when militants attacked security forces and a university campus, Cameroon’s defence minister said Wednesday.
Charles Wesco, 44, was travelling with his wife, son and a driver, when they came under fire on Tuesday. He died of his wounds in hospital later the same day in the regional capital Bamenda, the latest violence to rock the country’s English-speaking areas.
Defence minister Joseph Beti Assomo called the shooting a “terrorist ambush” in a statement broadcast on state radio, adding that an inquiry had been opened.
His comments came amid speculation by separatist supporters on social media in the English-speaking regions — the site of an uprising by armed secessionists — that the Cameroon army was behind the killing.
The attack happened in Bambui, 14 kilometres (nine miles) from Bamenda after a group of militants attempted to attack the university and a gendarmerie, according to Beti Assomo.
“Immediately pursued by defence and security forces, the armed terrorists fire back, which provokes a clash between them and the forces positioned around the university,” he said.
Four militants were killed, several wounded, he said, adding that a student and a soldier were injured in the crossfire.
English-speaking separatists argue that the French-language education system penalises anglophone students in the largely francophone central African nation.
The unrest has claimed the lives of more than 400 civilians and an unknown number of separatists in the year to September, according to the International Crisis Group (ICG) think-tank.
On Thursday, gunmen killed a linguistics professor in the same area.
University staff said the murder of the academic, who was also in charge of administration, bore the hallmarks of the “Amba boys,” or separatists fighting for an independent English-speaking state called Ambazonia.
The government has refused to engage in dialogue with anglophone separatists it brands “terrorists” and has sent forces into the area to restore order.
More than 300,000 people have fled the violence, some to neighbouring Nigeria.
The voter turnout for this month’s presidential election was very low in both anglophone regions, though Paul Biya won more than two-thirds of the votes cast, according to official results.
Biya, 85, has been in power since 1982 and was re-elected for a seventh term with 71 percent of the votes nationwide.