BAMENDA, Cameroon (Reuters) – Children kidnapped by gunmen in western Cameroon said their captors had warned them not to go back to school, recounting their ordeal as parents on Thursday packed up belongings from a boarding school now being shuttered.Kidnappers freed about 80 school children and a driver in west Cameroon on Wednesday, but kept hold of a principal and one teacher, two days after snatching them in a school raid.
The armed men had seized the kids on Monday in Bamenda – a green city nestled in the hills of western Cameroon and hub of the country’s troubled English-speaking region.
The military and a priest involved in negotiations blamed the abduction on anglophone separatists, but a spokesman for the separatists denied this.
“It was around 3 a.m. in the morning. We were still sleeping, then we heard people shouting, some other people, some men, came and broke our door. They told us: ‘come out’. They were all dressed in black,” a 13-year-old boy told Reuters TV, recounting his ordeal. He declined to be identified.
Stopping children going to school is a favoured tactic of anglophone separatists, who say schools are being used to spread government propaganda.
“When they set us free, they said we should tell the other schools that they should stop, so no one goes to school,” he said.
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. The government has denied discriminating against them.
“I am really, really worried,” a mother of one of the children said, before packing her boy’s things into a car. “I know his education is not guaranteed because of the security (situation) … because I am not sure for his safety.”
Cameroon’s linguistic divide is a legacy of World War One, after which the former German colony in central Africa was carved up between allies France and Britain.
(Reporting by Blaise Eyong, Writing by Tim Cocks, Editing by William Maclean)