YAOUNDE, May 31 (Xinhua) — At least 20 civilians have been killed after separatist fighters raided two communities in Cameroon’s war-torn English-speaking region of Southwest, security and local sources said on Tuesday.

A military official familiar with the incident told Xinhua by phone that separatists fighters invaded two villages in the Southwest region’s Akwaya subdivision on Sunday when villagers were attending church service, and attempted to kidnap some of the villagers whom they accused of failing to respect separatist orders. The villagers resisted the abduction and the fighters opened fire killing 20 people including women, said the official who asked not to be named. Locals interviewed by Xinhua said they counted 24 corpses on Monday when they returned to the villages after escaping to the bushes.

Villagers were only able to report the information to local authorities Monday night due to poor Internet and phone connections in the villages that border Nigeria. Over 500 locals have escaped from the villages after the incident and are now seeking refuge in Nigeria’s Cross River State, according to local authorities. Clashes between government forces and separatists in Cameroon’s two English-speaking regions of Northwest and Southwest began in 2017 after the separatists declared “independence” of the two regions.