More than 24 were killed in a Cameroon Anglophone region, local sources said, although the exact circumstances were not immediately clear.
The incident in Menka in Cameroon’s Northwest Region is one of the deadliest since armed secessionists from the English-speaking minority launched an insurrection last year against the predominantly Francophone central government.
Agbor Balla Nkongho, a local human rights lawyer and activist, told Reuters at least 34 bodies were found on Friday in Menka. He declined to say who killed them.
Another local source who visited Menka on Saturday and asked not to be named said she saw 29 bodies, including three outside a school, riddled with gunshot wounds. Some were women and others boys as young as 13, she said.
The bodies “are rotting already and reek,” she said.
Army spokesman Colonel Didier Badjeck said in a statement to local media government troops surrounded a hotel in Menka on Friday after they were tipped off to the presence of separatist rebels.
A firefight ensued and “several terrorists were neutralised”, Badjeck said, without providing further details.
A representative for the separatists did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Armed conflict erupted last year in Cameroon’s Anglophone Northwest and Southwest Regions after government violently repressed peaceful protests started in 2016 against perceived marginalisation of English speakers.
Cameroon’s linguistic divide harks back to the end of World War One, when the League of Nations divided the former German colony of Kamerun between the allied French and British victors.
Dozens of people have been killed since late last year – including more than 20 soldiers and police ambushed by separatists – and tens of thousands of refugees fled to neighbouring Nigeria.
The United States and rights groups accuse the Yaounde government of burning down villages and carrying out targeted killings in Anglophone regions, charges government denies.
The latest violence comes just months ahead of an election in which President Paul Biya, who has ruled the Central African oil producer for the last 35 years, is expected to stand for a fresh term.