79 kidnapped Cameroon students freed, says church official

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Armed men kidnapped 79 children from a school in western Cameroon on Monday and a local pastor said separatist militias were responsible. They have attacked civilians who oppose their cause, including teachers who were killed for disobeying orders to keep schools closed.

Meanwhile government has accused separatists who are now fighting an armed campaign for independence in the English speaking side of the country where the kidnappings occurred. "At least three teachers were killed during the same period and two school principals kidnapped".

The students, aged between 11 and 17, were brought to a church near the regional capital of Bamenda, said Fonki Samuel Forba, moderator of the country's Presbyterian Church.

He pleaded with the kidnappers to free the staff still held. The boys also said they were kidnapped by armed men and didn't know where they were being held.

A video purporting to show the kidnapped students was released on social media from a group of men who call themselves "Amba boys", a reference to the state of Ambazonia armed separatists want to establish in Cameroon's Anglophone North West and South West regions.

After being released, the students were taken in army vehicles back to the Presbyterian Secondary School where their parents were waiting. "You will be going to school now here", declared the men who identified themselves as the Amba boys.

The Anglophone separatists maintain they are being marginalised and dominated by the Francophone majority.

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"A widely followed boycott of schools was in place since late 2016, but since early 2017, school administrators and teachers perceived as not enforcing the boycott have faced increasing attacks by individuals and groups of individuals, acting on their own or in support of self-proclaimed armed separatist groups".

The group was abducted on Monday in Bamenda, a commercial hub of Cameroon's restive English-speaking region, according to military and government sources.

They have imposed curfews and shut down schools in protest against President Paul Biya's French-speaking government.

About 20 percent of Cameroon's 22 million people are English speaking.

The conflict between the insurgents and government security forces intensified a year ago after a government crackdown on peaceful protesters.

"In memory of American missionary Charles Wesco and all others who have lost their lives in the Anglophone Crisis, we urge all sides to end the violence and enter into broad-based reconciliatory dialogue without preconditions", the USA state department said.

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