Distant machine gun fire interrupted a speech by Cameroonian Prime Minister Dion Ngute on Tuesday during a visit to the capital of the restive North West region that Anglophone separatists had vowed to disrupt.
A video on social media shows Ngute trailing off mid-speech as the crowd turns and exclaims at a burst of far-off shots. In other footage, a suited man in a flak jacket puts his arms protectively around the premier as they are escorted away by security forces.
It was not clear who was responsible, but the incident underscores the insecurity plaguing Cameroon’s two English-speaking regions since insurgents seeking to form a breakaway state first took up arms against the military in 2017.
There was no immediate comment from the prime minister’s office.
A source at the office of North West’s governor said the shots were fired in the mountains outside Bamenda, the regional capital, and the prime minister was unharmed.
“The situation was brought under control,” the source said on condition of anonymity.
Before the shots rang out, Ngute told a cheering crowd that he was there to help resolve the crisis. “It is time that this suffering ends for us all. This is what brought me here,” he said in pidgin English.
North West is one of two regions where English-speaking secessionists seeking to form a state called Ambazonia have been battling government forces over perceived marginalisation by Cameroon’s French-speaking majority.
Both sides have committed atrocities in a conflict that has killed over 3,000 and forced hundreds of thousands to flee.
Ahead of Ngute’s visit to Bamenda, the so-called Ambazonian Defence Forces ordered residents to stay at home, saying that anyone participating in meetings with Ngute did so at their own risk.
“There will be planned military operations to challenge the colonial prime minister’s visit,” they said on Monday.
The separatists were not reachable for comment.
Last week, the UN humanitarian agency (OCHA) said it had been obliged to halt its activities due to a lockdown imposed in both regions by a non-state armed group banning all movement, work, or social activity between 15 September and 2 October.
There had been a notable increase in violence, kidnappings and attacks against those defying the lockdown, including teachers and students, it said.