The 79 children who were abducted from a Christian school in the North of Cameroon over the weekend have been freed, according to a church official. The crime took place at Bamenda’s Presbyterian Secondary School in the volatile city of Bamenda.
“They were brought last night to one of our churches … near Bamenda (the regional capital). They look tired and psychologically tortured,” said the moderator of the country’s Presbyterian Church, Fonki Samuel Forba, according to The Associated Press. Forba noted that two of the three staff members who were taken by the kidnappers remain in captivity.
— Peter Tah (@TFomonyuy) November 7, 2018
The perpetrators are believed to be associated with an English-speaking separatist group who want to create a sovereign state in the north of the central African nation named “Ambazonia.” Tensions between the Anglophone community and the French-speaking government forces have heightened over the past two years, as the separatists attempt to break away and form their own state.
Brutal clashes that have claimed hundreds of lives in recent months, and some 400 deaths since the violence began in 2016. One of those killed in the violence was American missionary Charles Wesco, who was shot dead last week just outside Bamenda.
Now, in light of this moment of elation for the church community, Forba has urged parents to take their children home immediately and keep them safe.
“It is unfortunate we have to close the school and send home 700 children,” he said. “Their security is not assured by the state and armed groups constantly attack and kidnap them.”
Though previously schools have paid a cash-sum ransom for the release of students, this abduction was different in that the militants simply demanded that the school be closed immediately. In a video of the kidnapped boys, one of the captors can be heard saying the group would only release the children once the new state is formed.
“We shall only release you after the struggle,” the kidnapper said. “You will be going to school here now.”
The separatists have also been setting fire to educational facilities, causing some 100 blazes.
In response to the kidnapping, North West region governor Deben Tchoffo insisted that more must be done to protect schools in the region.
“I must insist that we have taken enough measures to protect schools, but we also need the assistance of all,” said Tchoffo. “People should inform the military whenever they see strange faces in their villages.”
But many parents are tiring of the government’s promises of increased security and better protection for their kids.
“How can he always talk of protection and security when our schools are torched every day, our children tortured and their teachers killed,” said one father, Tah Pascal. “This is done in spite of the presence of the military.”
Following the release, Tibor Nagy, Assistant Secretary for U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of African Affairs, called for an “immediate halt to the indiscriminate targeting of civilians and burning of houses by Cameroonian government forces and to the attacks perpetrated by Anglophone separatists against security forces and civilians.”
I’m encouraged by the release of the students kidnapped from the Presbyterian Secondary School of Nkwen near Bamenda, Cameroon. We call for the immediate and safe return of the remaining hostages
— Tibor Nagy (@AsstSecStateAF) November 7, 2018
“We urge all sides to end the violence and enter into broad-based reconciliatory dialogue without preconditions,” he added in a statement on Twitter.
(H/T: The Associated Press)