A group of European tourists travelling in southwest Cameroon were not kidnapped, their Swiss tour operator said on Wednesday, contradicting government reports that separatist militants had held them hostage.
Speaking on state television, government spokesman Issa Tchiroma Bakary said 18 hostages were taken on Monday and freed hours later by the army’s elite Rapid Intervention Battalion.
He said the group included seven Swiss and five Italian tourists as well as six Cameroonian municipal officials taken by English-speaking separatists in the restive south-west region.
Tour group African Adventures said its clients were simply stopped on Monday by armed individuals who carried out a check of their documents and vehicles.
“Negotiations with this group resulted in their granting permission to leave,” the tour operator said in a statement on its website.
“Shortly before departure, Cameroon army force Special Forces arrived and a brief engagement followed,” it added, without elaborating.
None of the group was subjected to violence and all were well, the company said.
The Ambazonian Defence Force (ADF), the main Anglophone separatist group battling state security forces, denied the government version of events.
“ADF does not take hostages. ADF arrests enablers and collaborators and does not arrest foreign nationals,” Cho Ayaba, a leader of the Ambazonian Governing Council, to which the ADF is loosely affiliated, told Reuters.
ADF has been responsible for most shootings that have killed more than 20 state security agents in a year-long uprising against President Paul Biya’s francophone government they say marginalised the English-speaking minority.
A number of smaller armed groups emerged in recent months in reaction to a government crackdown that razed villages in rural Anglophone Cameroon near the Nigerian border.