Jubilation in Bamenda as school children released, reunite with families
About 72 hours after at least 79 pupils from Bamenda’s Presbyterian Secondary School in the English-speaking part of North-West Cameroon were kidnapped while they were in school, the children have been released on Wednesday.
Their release and reunion with their families was greeted by jubilation in Bamenda.
The kidnap of the hapless children raised a lot of criticism with calls from various quarters including Discover Africa News, that the children should be released immediately and without harm.
A driver was also freed, but the principal and a teacher are still being held.
After being released, the students were taken in army vehicles back to the Presbyterian Secondary School where their parents were waiting.
It was a very emotional scene as they tried to come to terms with what their children had been through, journalist Peter Tah told the BBC.
One of those who had been kidnapped, a 15-year-old girl, told the BBC that she had been treated well by the kidnappers.
Those held captive had been given fruit, food and warm water to wash with, she said.
According to the Presbyterian Church of Cameroon, the students were abandoned in one of its buildings in the town of Bafut, about 24km (15 miles) from Bamenda.
“The release was done peacefully… by unidentified gunmen. They were brought into the church premises,” Rev Fonki Samuel, Presbyterian Church Moderator in Cameroon, told the BBC Focus on Africa programme.
“The first information we got from them [kidnappers] is their call and they were telling us they intended to release the children yesterday [Tuesday] morning… but unfortunately it rained so heavily that could not happen.
“So [on] the evening of yesterday, surprisingly and by God’s grace, the children were brought back to us.”
Rev Samuel told the BBC that 78 students, not 79 as earlier reported, had been released.
BBC reported that in the earlier 31 October incident, 11 boys were taken and then released. It is unclear who the kidnappers were but the church paid a ransom of $4,000 (£3,000) to secure their release, he said.
The army had been deployed to try to find the children taken on Sunday.
Reports point to the direction that those kidnappers are the ‘Ambaboys’ short for Ambazonia boys—the separatist group who want political independence for the minority English-speaking part of the country. Regional governor Adolphe Lele L’Afrique blamed separatist militias for the kidnapping, although this has not been confirmed.
But an Anglophone group, the Ambazonia International Policy Commission (AIPC), has denied that the separatists were behind the kidnapping.
The secessionist movement took up arms last year to demand independence for the North-West and South-West regions – the two English-speaking regions in a country where French is the most widely spoken official language.
Between 2017 and now when the separatist movement gained momentum, a number of stone-wielding agitators have been killed and maimed under the superior firearms of the state forces. But those boys have continued to pursue their campaign fervently.