(Corrects sourcing in paragraph 1 and 8)
By Josiane Kouagheu
(Reuters) -Separatist rebels on Wednesday killed a soldier during an attack on Cameroon’s western city of Buea, the home base for four soccer teams competing in the Africa Cup of Nations, a senior militant said.
An army spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.
Africa’s premier soccer tournament kicked off on Sunday amid security concerns, especially in western regions where a separatist insurgency seeking to establish a breakaway state called Ambazonia has carried out deadly attacks on civilians and the army since 2017.
Mali, Gambia, Tunisia and Mauritania from Group F are all based in Buea in the South West region, where many clashes between the army and the rebels have occurred.
The soldier was killed by an improvised explosive device (IED) during the attack in which rebels exchanged gunfire with the army inside the city, said Cho Ayaba, the head of the rebel Ambazonia Defence Forces.
“Our forces launched an IED attack that killed one soldier. A sister force known as the Mountain Lions also engaged the military in an hour-long combat,” Ayaba told Reuters.
The aim, Ayaba said, was to disrupt preparations for two Group F games that are being played on Wednesday in Limbe, a coastal city about an hour’s drive south from Buea.
Akem Kelvin Nkwain, a human rights lawyer based in Buea, confirmed that gunmen entered the town, opened fire and used explosive devices.
Nkwain said that a taxi driver and a passenger were also killed when they were caught in the crossfire near the central market. Reuters was not able to independently verify this.
The first Group F game, between Mali and Tunisia, went ahead on Wednesday with Mali winning 1-0 https://www.reuters.com/lifestyle/sports/mali-beat-tunisia-tale-two-penalties-poor-timekeeping-2022-01-12, and the match between Gambia and Mauritania got underway as planned.
Militias from the minority English-speaking west have been fighting since 2017 in protest against what they say is their marginalisation by the French-speaking government.
The conflict has killed at least 3,000 people and forced nearly one million to flee. Separatist and government forces have both been accused of abuses against civilians.
Henry Kemende, a prominent local senator, was shot dead on Tuesday by unknown assailants in Bamenda, the capital of the neighbouring North West region, his party said.
(Reporting by Josiane Kouagheu;Additional reporting by Edward McAllister;Writing by Cooper Inveen, Editing by Alexandra Hudson)