BAMENDA (Reuters) – All 79 children and a driver kidnapped in west Cameroon were freed yesterday, but a principal and one teacher are still being held by the armed men that took them, a priest conducting negotiations said.
The group was abducted on Monday in Bamenda, a commercial hub of Cameroon’s restive English-speaking region, according to military and government sources.
“Praise God 78 children and the driver have been released. The principal and one teacher are still with the kidnappers. Let us keep praying,” Samuel Fonki, a minister of the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon, said.
One other child had escaped earlier, he added.
The priest did not say precisely when the children were freed, or whether any deal had been made with the kidnappers. He had earlier said another 11 school children were kidnapped by the same armed group on October 31, then released after the school paid a ransom of 2.5 million CFA francs ($4,400).
The Cameroonian military have accused anglophone separatists of carrying out the kidnappings, but a separatist spokesman denied involvement.
The secessionists have imposed curfews and closed schools as part of their protest against Biya’s French-speaking government and its perceived marginalisation of the English-speaking minority.
Cameroon’s separatist movement turned violent in 2017 after a government crackdown on initially peaceful demonstrations by English-speakers. The linguistic divide is a legacy of a former German colony in central Africa that was divided between allies France and Britain at the end of World War One.
The attack on children, which recalled the 2014 abduction of more than 200 girls by Islamist Militant group Boko Haram in Chibok in neighbouring Nigeria, was criticised by human rights groups.