Some 79 children have been abducted from a Christian school in the same area where, last week, U.S. missionary Charles Wesco was shot dead.
A government official said that the kidnapped group, who were taken in the city of Bamenda, the capital of the North-West region, included the school’s principal. According to the BBC, a massive Army search is currently underway to locate those abducted. In recent months, Cameroon’s North-West and South-West regions have been dogged by violence between English-speaking rebels and French-speaking government forces.
Regional governor Adolphe Lele L’Afrique said that separatist militants are to blame for the mass kidnapping, however no group has claimed official responsibility as of yet. The crime took place at Bamenda’s Presbyterian Secondary School, which enrolls pupils aged between 10 and 14. The school’s website describes the learning facility as a “co-educational Christian public boarding school.”
“It is rather unfortunate that this is happening, that 79 of our children and three of their staff can be picked up by terrorists,” said North West Region Gov. Deben Tchoffo, according to TIME. “We have asked our military to do everything and bring back the kids alive.”
A video has appeared of the group, in which several of the students can be heard saying, “I was taken from school last night by the Amba boys, I don’t know where I am.” At the end of the footage, one of the kidnappers can be seen.
One of the youngsters who managed to escape by hiding under a bed spoke to the BBC about his horrific ordeal.
“One of my friends, they beat him mercilessly,” he explained. “All I could think about was to just stay quiet. They threatened to shoot some people… all the big boys they rounded up, and the small ones they left them behind.”
VIDEO: Gunmen kidnap 79 school students in an English-speaking region of Cameroon where separatists are fighting an armed campaign for independence, security and government sources said pic.twitter.com/DLDv0QrOYs
— AFP news agency (@AFP) November 6, 2018
The moderator of the Christians school, Right Reverend Fonki Samuel Forba said he had personally spoken to the kidnappers to ascertain their demands. “They don’t want any ransom,” he explained. “All they want is for us to close the schools. We have promised to close down the schools.”
“We hope and pray they release the kids and the teachers.”
Secessionists from #Cameroon kidnap 11 students and threaten to enroll them by force in rebelion 😰 @Reuters @BBCWorld @camanpour @VP @nikkihaley @StateDept @USEmbYaounde @cnn @afp @fbi @USCongress @UNESCO @Union_Africaine @AmnestyWARO @RepChrisSmith @RepKarenBass @RepAdamSchiff pic.twitter.com/9S3awoa9YG
— John Epiee (@EpieeJohn) November 5, 2018
The English-speaking separatists want to create a sovereign state in the north of the central African nation which would be named “Ambazonia.” But government forces have continued to try and suppress the rebellion, which has resulted in brutal clashes that have claimed hundreds of lives in recent months, and some 400 deaths since the violence began in 2016.
In the kidnapping video, one of the captors can be heard saying that they shall only release the kids once the new state is formed. “We shall only release you after the struggle,” the kidnapper said. “You will be going to school here now.”
Just last week, American mission worker Charles Wesco was shot dead as he traveled just outside Bamenda. Wesco, who had only been in the country for a matter of weeks, was killed when a volley of gunfire struck his car windshield as he traveled to a local store with his wife, Stephanie, one of his children and a fellow missionary. State authorities have said that separatists were to blame, but others have sought to point the finger at government forces.