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Dozens of kidnapped kids are freed in Cameroon

Image: Parents await for news of their children at a school where 79 pupils
Parents await for news of their children at a school where children were kidnapped in Bamenda, Cameroon, on Monday. -
Blaise Eyong
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BAMENDA, Cameroon — Dozens of children kidnapped by armed men in Cameroon have been freed, a priest conducting the negotiations said Wednesday.

Although all 79 children and a driver were released, a principal and one teacher were still being held.

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

"Praise God 78 children and the driver have been released. The principal and one teacher are still with the kidnappers. Let us keep praying," said Samuel Fonki, a minister of the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon. "They look tired and psychologically tortured."

One other child had escaped earlier, he added.

The students are between 11 and 17 years old.

The priest did not say precisely when the children were freed, or whether any deal had been made with the kidnappers. He had earlier said another 11 children were kidnapped by the same armed group on Oct. 31, then released after the school paid a ransom of 2.5 million CFA francs ($4,400).

A woman waits for news of her child at the school in Bamenda, Cameroon, on Monday.
A woman waits for news of her child at the school in Bamenda, Cameroon, on Monday.Blaise Eyong

Most people in Cameroon speak French. Fonki and the Cameroonian military have accused English-speaking separatists of carrying out the kidnappings, but a separatist spokesman denied involvement.

The secessionists have imposed curfews and closed schools as part of their protest against Biya's French-speaking government and its perceived marginalization of the English-speaking minority.

Cameroon's separatist movement turned violent in 2017 after a government crackdown on initially peaceful demonstrations by English-speakers. The linguistic divide is a legacy of a former German colony in central Africa that was divided between allies France and Britain at the end of World War One.

The attack on children, which recalled the 2014 abduction of more than 200 girls by Islamist Militant group Boko Haram in Chibok in neighboring Nigeria, was criticized by human rights groups.