YAOUNDE, Cameroon (AP) — More than 5,000 people, including women and children, have been freed from extremist captivity and at least 60 Boko Haram fighters have been killed by Cameroonian and Nigerian soldiers in operations since the end of January, Cameroon's minister of communication said Tuesday.
Thousands of Cameroonian soldiers, supported by Nigerian troops, have been launching raids on Boko Haram strongholds in the Mandara mountains that straddle the two countries since Jan. 26, said the minister and government spokesman Issa Tchiroma Bakary.
"At least 60 terrorists were killed, 21 suspects were arrested and are helping Cameroon and Nigerian military in their investigations," Bakary said. "A refuge center for the insurgents is entirely destroyed on the Mandara highlands, a petroleum depot destroyed and an explosive factory destroyed."
Soldiers have also destroyed the residence of a Boko Haram leader which also served as a hideout for the extremists, along with a huge consignment of weapons, vehicles and motorcycles, he said. No soldiers have been killed, he said.
The more than 5,000 people freed, including elderly persons, have been transported to a camp for displaced people in the Nigerian town of Banki, where they are receiving treatment from both Cameroonian and Nigerian military health workers, he said.
In December, Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari announced troops had chased Boko Haram militants out of their key remaining base in the Sambisa forest, another former stronghold that straddles Cameroon's border with Nigeria.
Cameroon and Nigeria that same month reopened the border between the two countries for the first time in three years.
Cameroon has since called for vigilance and collaboration between its military and the population, stating that the insurgents had resorted to large scale suicide bombings as their firepower was greatly reduced.
Boko Haram's seven-year insurgency has killed more than 20,000 people, left 2.6 million homeless and more than 5 million refugees in urgent need of food aid.