Nine health workers have been kidnapped from a government-run hospital in Cameroon’s restive northwest, one of two regions where armed separatists have been fighting government troops to create a breakaway state, the local mayor said on Friday.

Acha Kennedy Ngu, mayor of the town of Batibo where the kidnapping took place, said the health workers were abducted on Thursday and were still being held. Ngu did not give further details as he was not in town when it happened, he said.

The attackers’ identity and motives were unknown.

A spokesperson for the Ambazonia Governing Council, whose armed wing – Ambazonia Defense Forces – is the main armed separatist group operating in the area, denied responsibility for the abduction.

“This is unacceptable and does not represent the spirit of our liberation movement. Medical workers should be protected and not harassed,” spokesperson Capo Daniel told Reuters via email.

Medical workers have been frequently targeted since Cameroon’s Anglophone crisis turned violent in 2017. Thousands of people have been killed in the fighting, with atrocities committed on both sides.

The conflict stems from perceived marginalisation of Cameroon’s Anglophone community by the French-speaking majority in the central African state.