Libreville (AFP) - The United Nations on Tuesday warned of "worsening violence" in Cameroon's restive English-speaking regions, where it said eight students and 13 nuns had recently been abducted and released for ransom.
The francophone-majority central African country has seen a surge of violence in its anglophone Northwest and Southwest regions after separatists there declared an independent state last year, prompting a government crackdown.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a statement Tuesday that "we continue to receive reports of abductions and killings by armed groups, as well as extrajudicial killings by state armed forces".
"Just over the past two weeks, we have received reports of the abduction of eight students and one school official in Kumba, in the Southwest, and of at least 13 nuns" in the Northwest town of Ndop, the statement said.
"They were all subsequently released, after some parents paid ransoms and the Catholic Diocese of Kumba intervened."
The UN also said that Cameroon "security forces reportedly killed four villagers during a confrontation with armed secessionist groups" in the Northwest village of Rom last month.
"We urge all sides to refrain from acts of violence that have, for more than a year now, left the population in these regions living in fear, unable to access their basic human rights."
The crisis erupted in the two anglophone regions in 2016 over perceived discrimination at the hands of the francophone majority.
Last year it developed into an armed conflict, with radicals declaring an independent state -- the Republic of Ambazonia.
Separatists have since attacked troops and police, boycotted and torched schools and attacked other symbols of the government in the former German colony, which was divided between Britain and France after World War I.
Almost daily clashes now occur between security forces and separatists, who have organised themselves into scattered groups in dense tropical forests.
Early this month, armed men believed to be separatists abducted 90 students in the Northwest, later freeing them in circumstances that remain unclear.
The conflict has displaced more than 437,000 people, according to UN data released in October.