Armed assailants have kidnapped about 80 children from a school in western Cameroon during the night, government and military sources have said.
- A video purportedly of the kidnapped children has been released on social media
- Violence has escalated between the French-speaking government and separatist soldiers
- Secessionists have imposed curfews and closed down schools
No-one immediately claimed responsibility for the abduction from Bamenda, a city in the English-speaking region where separatists are fighting to form a breakaway state.
“In total 81 people were kidnapped including the [school] principal. They were taken to the bush,” a military source told Reuters.
Another source said that 79 of the kidnapped were children.
Governor Deben Tchoffo said they were taken from a Presbyterian school in Nkwen village.
A video purportedly of the kidnapped children has been released on social media via men who call themselves “Amba boys”, a reference to the state of Ambazonia that armed separatists are trying to establish in Cameroon’s Anglophone north-west and south-west regions.
Secessionists have imposed curfews and closed down schools as part of their protest against President Paul Biya’s French-speaking government and its perceived marginalisation of the Anglophone minority.
In the video, the kidnappers force several young male students to give their names and the names of their parents.
The children say they were kidnapped late on Sunday (local time) by the armed men and they don’t know where they are being held.
The men who identify themselves on the video as the kidnappers say they will only release the children when they achieve what they want.
“We shall only release you after the struggle. You will be going to school now here,” say the men.
The video could not be independently verified, but parents have said on social media that they recognise their children in the video.
Escalating violence in Cameroon
An army spokesman confirmed the abduction but declined to say how many were taken.
He said that it was most likely to have been carried out by separatists.
A separatist spokesman denied involvement in the kidnapping and blamed government soldiers.
Many people have fled Bamenda as fighting between the Government and separatists escalates. (Flickr: jbdodane
The separatist movement gathered pace in 2017 after a government crackdown on peaceful demonstrations.
One of the original gripes was that French-speaking teachers were being deployed to English-speaking schools in the north-west and south-west regions.
Violence intensified in 2018, including during an army crackdown in which civilians were killed.
Last week an American missionary was killed after he was caught in the crossfire between separatist fighters and security forces.
Many people have fled Bamenda and other centres to seek refuge in more peaceful Francophone regions.