BAMENDA (CAMEROON)– Students kidnapped from a boarding school in Cameroon’s restive North-West region have been reunited with their parents amid joyful scenes.
The 78 boys and girls and three others were seized early on Monday in the region’s capital, Bamenda.
A driver was also freed, but the principal and a teacher are still being held.
The government and English-speaking separatists have accused each other of orchestrating the kidnapping.
After being released, the students were taken in army vehicles back to the Presbyterian Secondary School where their parents were waiting.
One of those who had been kidnapped, a 15-year-old girl, told the media that she had been treated well by the kidnappers.
Those held captive had been given fruit, food and warm water to wash with, she said.
She said she could tell they were separatist rebels, who are demanding an independent state of Ambazonia, by the way they looked and spoke.
But an Anglophone group, the Ambazonia International Policy Commission (AIPC), has denied that the separatists were behind the kidnapping.
The secessionist movement took up arms last year to demand independence for the North-West and South-West regions – the two English-speaking regions in a country where French is the most widely spoken official language.
According to the Presbyterian Church of Cameroon, the students were abandoned in one of its buildings in the town of Bafut, about 24km from Bamenda.
“The release was done peacefully… by unidentified gunmen. They were brought into the church premises,” Rev Fonki Samuel, Presbyterian Church Moderator in Cameroon, said.
“The first information we got from them [kidnappers] is their call and they were telling us they intended to release the children yesterday [Tuesday] morning… but unfortunately it rained so heavily that could not happen.
“So [on] the evening of yesterday, surprisingly and by God’s grace, the children were brought back to us.”
Rev Samuel said that 78 students, not 79 as earlier reported, had been released.
He also revealed that Sunday’s kidnapping was the second such case at the school in less than a week.
In the earlier Oct 31 incident, 11 boys were taken and then released. It is unclear who the kidnappers were but the church paid a ransom of $4,000 to secure their release, he said.
The army had been deployed to try to find the children taken on Sunday.
Cameroon’s authorities have blamed the kidnap on Anglophone separatist militias – who have called for schools in English-speaking regions to be closed.
There have been a spate of kidnappings in the Anglophone regions at other schools but this week’s incident involved the largest number abducted in a single incident.
It said that the separatists had set fire to at least 100 schools and taken them over as training grounds.
English-speakers in Cameroon have long complained that they face discrimination from Cameroon’s Francophone majority.
They say that they are excluded from top civil service jobs and that government documents are often only published in French, even though English is also an official language.
Source: NAM NEWS NETWORK