By: Rachel Hess Wachman (International News Correspondent)
Armed men kidnapped seventy-nine students and three staff members from the Presbyterian Secondary School in Nkwen, a village in Bamenda, which is the capital of Cameroon’s Anglophone region.
The abduction comes amid a separatist struggle waged by Anglophones in the largely French-speaking country of Cameroon, which has resulted in violence and school kidnappings since the movement took off last year.
“They don’t want any ransom,” said Right Reverend Fonki Samuel Forba, moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon. “All they want is for us to close the schools. We have promised to close down the schools.” Forba says he hopes and prays that the children and the teachers are released.
The Anglophone separatists have accused Cameroon’s Francophone government of marginalizing Cameroon’s English speakers, who reside in the Northwest and Southwest regions of the country.
“I was taken from school last night by the Amba boys, I don’t know where I am,” repeated students in a video filmed by one of the kidnappers. Amba refers to Ambazonia, which is the country that Cameroon’s separatist is striving to create.
“We shall only release you after the struggle. You will be going to school now here,” said the kidnappers in the video.
According to the New York Times, violence in Anglophone regions of Cameroon has resulted in over 400 civilian deaths. Thousands have fled into the forest or crossed the border into Nigeria, seeking refuge from the separatist struggle.
“One of my friends, they beat him mercilessly,” said by a student who escaped the kidnapping by hiding under a bed in the dormitory. “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.”
“The military came in and went to the principal’s house where we realized that her door was bashed and entered into, the glasses are still there on the ground,” a teacher told BBC, speaking about the aftermath of the abduction.
“The state, the government, will not surrender. We are going to make sure the students, the people that were abducted, are brought back to the classrooms,” said Governor Deben Tchoffo, who confirmed the kidnapping. Tchoffo says the government is doing all it can to find the kidnapping victims.
The Rapid Intervention Battalion is looking for the students and teachers, as well as Cameroon’s army, police, and military police.
“In a case with a chilling echo of the 2014 kidnappings of the Chibok schoolgirls in Nigeria, it is vital that Cameroon’s government act swiftly and decisively to reunite these children with their loved ones,” said Samira Daoud, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for West and Central Africa. “These appalling abductions show just how the general population is paying the highest price as violence escalates in the Anglophone region.”
This kidnapping is not the first to occur in Cameroon lately. On October 19th, unidentified gunmen abducted five students from Atiela Bilingual High School. The students have not yet been found.
“We express solidarity with the families of these children,” said Daoud. “And demand that the Cameroon authorities do everything in their power to ensure all the pupils and school staff are freed unharmed.”