School children kidnapped in Cameroon

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Armed men kidnapped 79 children from a school in western Cameroon with a local pastor saying separatist militias were responsible.

The abduction happened before dawn in Bamenda in the English-speaking Northwest region. The children, their principal and a driver were taken into the bush outside town, military and government sources said, and the army started searching the area.

Anglophone secessionists imposed curfews and closed schools as part of their protest against President Paul Biya’s French-speaking government and its perceived marginalisation of the English-speaking minority.

A separatist spokesman denied involvement in the kidnapping.
“In total 81 people were kidnapped including the school principal. They were taken to the bush,” a military source told Reuters.

An army spokesman confirmed the abduction but declined to say how many were snatched. He said it was likely to have been separatists. The separatist spokesman blamed government soldiers.

Samuel Fonki, a Presbyterian Church in Cameroon reverend, told Reuters he is moderating for the release of the children. He said separatists were responsible.
“They say I have to close the school. They asked for a ransom,” he said, though no amount was specified.

The separatist movement gathered pace in 2017 after a government crackdown on peaceful demonstrations. One of the original gripes was French-speaking teachers were being deployed to English-speaking schools in Northwest and Southwest regions.

Violence intensified in 2018, including an army crackdown in which civilians were killed. Many fled Bamenda and other centres to seek refuge in more peaceful Francophone regions.