79 kid­napped stu­dents freed

Of­fi­cials say masked men dropped teens off at their school

The Dallas Morning News - - World -

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.

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