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Cameroon: Kidnapped students released without ransom

Eunice Wanjiru
November 7, 2018

It remains unclear who was behind the kidnapping of 79 students and staff members of a Presbyterian school in Cameroon.

A group of people waiting for news of the kidnapped children
Image: Reuters/B. Eyong

On Wednesday, a day after Cameroon's President Paul Biya was sworn in, a group of the 79 kidnapped school children were released. However the school principal and a teacher are still being held, a church official said.

Fonki Samuel Forba, a minister of the country's Presbyterian Church was involved in the negotiations to free the pupils. He said no ransom was paid but gave no more details on the circumstances leading up to the release.

Instead of a ransom demand, the abductors had demanded that the school be shut down, part of an apparent broader effort to destabilize the region.

The students, aged between 11 and 17, were kidnapped along with the principal, driver and another staff member from a Presbyterian secondary school in the town of Bamenda in the early hours of Monday.

Read MoreSchool pupils abducted in Cameroon's Anglophone Northwest

A video of the kidnapped children was released on social media by self-described armed separatists, who call themselves Amba boys – a reference to "Ambazonia," the state that separatists are trying to establish in Cameroon's Anglophone Northwest and Southwest regions. 

President Biya waves to supporters
85-year-old President Paul Biya was sworn in for a seventh term in office.Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/S. Alamba

Blame game

Cameroon's government blames the separatists for the abduction, but the separatists have denied any involvement. It is still not clear who is responsible.

Chris Bongam, a member of the Ambazonia self defense council, told DW that after the video of some of the kidnapped students was posted on social media, "the Ambazonia restoration forces went out in search of the children.”

Bongam said that one of the kidnappers on the video was a French-speaking man from Yaounde and that people recognized him. This was one of the things that indicate that "this was a staged kidnap mission, sponsored probably by the government or another group," he added.

"He [the man in the video] has a lot of groups that he sponsors to carry out atrocities in order to create tensions between the restoration forces and the population," Bongam said.

According to military spokesman Didier Badjeck, the kidnappers were forced to release the children after they realized they were surrounded by security forces. "Feeling boxed in, the terrorists had no choice but release the kids," Badjeck said in a statement.

School closed

The Presbyterian Church in Cameroon (PCC), which runs the school, said that 11 other pupils were taken on October 31 but were freed shortly before the abduction on November 5.

A leading member of the church, Reverend Fonki Samuel Forba, said in a statement on Monday that the abductors had "asked for a huge ransom and the church was helpless." The students were released "very traumatized," he added.

The kidnappings coincide with an upsurge of political tensions in the majority French-speaking country.

Read MoreAnalysts see a bleak future for Cameroon

Residents of Bamenda are happy that the students have been released. "It's good news to hear that they have been released. I don't know what the psychological state of the children is, but it sounds consoling," said Derick, a Bamenda resident.

"Something that needs verification is who kidnapped these children," Grace, also from Bamenda, told DW.

Pictures of the released students have been seen on Twitter.

The Presbyterian Church has decided to close all its schools in the troubled region "until peace returns," Reverend Fonki said.

Need for dialogue

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday condemned the kidnappings of the staff from the Presbyterian Secondary School of Nkwen and called for their immediate release and return to their homes and families. Guterres stressed the need for an inclusive dialogue process.

The secessionists have imposed curfews and closed schools as part of their protest against Biya's French-speaking government and its perceived marginalization of the English-speaking minority. The government has denied discriminating against them.