Cameroon’s president has called on Anglophone separatists in the country to lay down their arms, shortly before the release of 79 boys and girls who had been abducted in an Anglophone region in the French-speaking West African country.
President Paul Biya, who was sworn in for his new seventh term in office on Tuesday, ruled out independence for the restive, English-speaking Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon but promised policies of decentralization.
“I have carefully examined the frustrations and aspirations of the great majority of our fellow citizens,” Biya said in his inauguration speech.
He nevertheless warned the separatists to renounce violence.
Referring to the rebels, who he said were plotting “terror and desolation,” he noted, “They need to know that they will face the rigor of the law and the determination of our defense and security forces. I appeal to them to lay down their arms.”
The 85-year-old president, who has ruled the West African nation for 35 years, however, made no mention of the 79 boys and girls who had been abducted in Bamenda, the capital of the Northwest Region, on the eve of his inauguration.
Kidnappings in Cameroon multiply as separatists seek to carve out an English-speaking ‘Republic of Ambazonia’ in mainly francophone Cameroon.
Meanwhile, Cameroon’s Communications Minister Bakary Tchiroma said on Wednesday that “all 79 students have been released.”
He confirmed the news to AFP, without providing details of the circumstances under which they were set free.
The children, along with the school principle and driver, had been abducted by assailants who entered the Presbyterian Secondary School in Bamenda and took them away on a school bus on Monday.
An army spokesman had blamed separatists for the kidnapping, while a separatist spokesman had denied involvement in the incident. He had accused the government of having kidnapped the kids to discredit the rebels.
AFP said it had seen a six-minute video — which could not be independently verified — in which 11 boys, apparently aged above 15, are seen giving their identity and name of the school in English.
The boys were also seen saying that they were kidnapped by the “Amba Boys,” a name used for Anglophone separatists in the region.
A minister of the Presbyterian Church, Samuel Finke, who earlier said that he had been mediating with the kidnappers for the children’s release, also confirmed their release on Wednesday.
He said that another 11 schoolchildren had been kidnapped by the same armed group on October 31 but that the school had quietly paid a ransom of $4,400 for their release.
UN calls for the children’s release
Also on Tuesday, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for the children’s “immediate release and return to their homes and families.”
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Guterres also renewed his appeal for an end to the crisis in the restive regions.
“There can be no justification for these crimes against civilians, particularly minors,” Guterres said via his spokesperson.
Violence in the separatist regions has been on the rise recently. The armed separatists have gunned down government troops and police, imposed curfews, and closed schools as part of their rebellion against the government, which has in response launched a massive crackdown on them.
Guterres renewed his call for a peaceful solution to the crisis and offered UN help to broker dialog.
Some non-governmental groups say at least 400 people have been killed in the violence.
By Africafrique and agencies