Three soldiers have been charged with murder over a massacre in western Cameroon, where security forces are fighting anglophone separatists, the army said Thursday.
At least 10 children and three women were killed on 14 February in the village of Ngarbuh, according to the authorities.
“The three Cameroonian soldiers have been placed in provisional detention in Yaounde military prison,” army spokesman Colonel Cyrille Atonfack Guemo told AFP, adding that they had been charged with murder.
The military initially denied any killings and said the deaths had resulted from an “unfortunate accident” which happened when fuel containers exploded in crossfire between separatists and troops.
The UN said at least 23 civilians had died, 15 of them children and two of them pregnant women.
As the international outcry amplified, President Paul Biya ordered an investigation.
The preliminary conclusions, published in mid-April, found that three “uncontrolled” soldiers who had disobeyed orders killed 10 children and three women with the help of local auxiliaries from the Fulani, or Peul, ethnic group.
The troops then “tried to hide the facts by setting fires” before submitting a bogus report, according to the probe.
In addition to being charged with the murder, the three – two troopers and a sergeant – are also accused of disobeying orders, destruction of property and arson, the army said on Thursday.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Thursday that it was glad that the investigation had got underway.
“However, we believe that all those who are responsible for these odious crimes, including those at the top of the chain of command, should be held accountable and punished appropriately,” she said.
In its own probe, the rights watchdog said between 10 and 15 troops took part in the massacre, including members of an elite unit, the Fast Intervention Battalion (BIR).
The deaths triggered an outpouring of grief in Cameroon, and Richard Bona, a Cameroon-born US bass player, devoted a song to the victims called “Ngarbuh.”