79 kidnapped students freed
Officials say masked men dropped teens off at their school
DAKAR, Senegal — Dozens of students kidnapped from a boarding school in a restive region of Cameroon were freed late Tuesday after being held hostage for about two days, according to local and military officials.
The 79 teenage students were dropped off at the campus of their Presbyterian Secondary School by masked men around 11 p.m., said Samuel Fonki, a pastor who works with the school.
He added that no ran som had been paid for the release of the children, who were taken sometime Sunday or Monday from their campus in Nkwen, a village outside Bamenda, where separatists are waging a violent battle for independence from Cameroon.
Fonki said the students all appeared healthy and were immediately taken to security forces for questioning. He said a teacher and a principal were still being held captive. The military said the hostages were abandoned by their captors after the area was sealed off by soldiers.
The area where the kidnappings occurred is one of two Englishspeaking regions in the country where factions of separatists want to form their own nation, Ambazonia. The decadeslong quest for secession turned violent about a year ago, after government soldiers opened fire on unarmed protesters.
Separatists say they are fighting to overturn years of poor representation in the government, which is centered in the Frenchspeaking capital. The dual official languages are a remnant of a colonial past in which both France and Britain imposed their own cultures on the regions.
President Paul Biya has been in power for 36 years, centralizing authority with loyalists in the capital, and he was sworn in for his seventh term Tuesday.
The military’s response to the separatists, a largely ragtag group of local fighters who use homemade guns and take orders from leaders living abroad, has been heavily criticized by human rights advocates.
Soldiers have burned dozens of villages to the ground. More than 400 people have been killed and tens of thousands of people have fled to neighboring Nigeria or into the forest.