Kidnapped students in Cameroon released

Cameroon map Credit Rainer Lesniewski Shutterstock CNA Rainier Lesniewski/Shutterstock.

Seventy-eight students and a driver kidnapped from a Christian school in Cameroon were released late Tuesday.

The students were recovered the evening of Nov. 6 at a building of the Presbyterian Church of Cameroon in Bafut, fewer than 15 miles north of Bamenda, whence they were taken.

The principal and a teacher of the Presbyterian Secondary School were also abducted Nov. 5, but were not released with the students and driver.

The Cameroonian government and Anglophone separatists have accused each other of being behind the abduction; both have denied involvement.

Fonki Samuel, moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon, told BBC Focus on Africa that the students, aged 11-17, were “frightened and traumatised but in good shape.”

Samuel said the release “was done peacefully... by unidentified gunmen.”

It had earlier been reported that 79 students were taken, but Samuels said it was in fact 78.

The Nov. 5 kidnapping was the second such incident at Bamenda's Presbyterian Secondary School in recent weeks. Another 11 students were abducted Oct. 31, and released for a $4,000 ransom.

Samuel suggested that “armed groups, gangsters and thieves” could be using the insecurity in Cameroon, blaming kidnappings on either the government or the separatists.

Separatists have set fire to more than 100 schools, taking them over as training grounds, the AP has reported. The groups protest the bias toward the French language over English in the educational system.

On. Oct 30, an American Baptist missionary was shot in the head amid the fighting in Bamenda.

“This tragedy occurred in the midst of the Anglophone crisis that affects the Northwest and Southwest Regions of Cameroon. Both the separatist fighters and government security forces have used violence against innocent civilians,” State Department Deputy Spokesman Robert Palladino said Oct. 31.

Earlier in October, a seminarian in Bamenda was shot by Cameroonian soldiers outside of a church following Mass.

Archbishop Cornelius Fontem Esua of Bamenda called the 19-year-old seminarian, Gerard Anjiangwe, a “martyr of the Anglophone crisis” in his funeral Mass Oct. 16. Anjiangwe died holding his rosary.

More than 160,000 people have been forced out of their homes by the conflict according to Caritas International.

The crisis in Cameroon is rooted in conflict between the English- and French-speaking areas of Cameroon.

The area was a German colony in the late 19th century, but the territory was divided into British and French mandates after the German Empire's defeat in World War I. The mandates were united in an independent Cameroon in 1961.

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There is now a separatist movement in the Southwest and Northwest Regions, which were formerly the British Southern Cameroons.

Unrest in Cameroon has been ongoing since 2016, when the country’s Anglophone community began protests to demand the return of federalism. These protests have gone so care as to call for secession from the current government, run by President Paul Biya.

Biya was sworn in to his seventh term Nov. 6. He has ruled Cameroon for 36 years. Archbishop Samuel Kleda of Douala has voiced concern that Biya's election was marred by fraud.

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