By Amindeh Blaise Atabong
YAOUNDE (Reuters) -Gunmen opened fire on people as they slept in a town in western Cameroon in the early hours of Monday, leaving at least 20 dead, a local government official said.
Residents said they suspected the attack was meant to disrupt celebrations marking the 41st anniversary of Paul Biya becoming Cameroon’s president that were due to take place in Mamfe and other centres on Monday.
Separatists in minority English-speaking parts of Cameroon have been fighting to carve out an independent state called Ambazonia since 2017.
Armed groups have carried out attacks, kidnappings and killings in the North West and South West regions of the predominantly French-speaking African country.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for Monday’s attack.
The gunmen struck before dawn and set houses ablaze, Viang Mekala, the administrative head of the surrounding Manyu division in South West region, said.
Seven people were in hospital and security forces were searching the area, Mekala told Reuters. “The situation is under control and the population should not panic,” he said.
Residents said several senior politicians had come to celebrate the anniversary in the town which is less than 50 km (30 miles) from the border with Nigeria.
(Reporting by Amindeh Blaise Atabong; Writing by Sofia Christensen; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Andrew Heavens)