19, February 2019
Cameroonian students and school staff who were kidnapped on Saturday have been freed, the Bishop of Kumbo has told the BBC. A total of 176 people, mostly students, were kidnapped by unidentified gunmen at Saint Augustin’s College in Kumbo, in the North West region of Cameroon.
They were released on Sunday after negotiations. It is the largest school kidnapping in Cameroon’s English-speaking regions since separatist unrest began in 2017.
Human Rights Watch has accused rebel groups of being behind the kidnapping but they have not yet commented. They have said previous abductions were staged by the government to damage their reputation.
The gunmen entered the campus of Saint Augustine’s College Nso on Saturday morning and seized 170 students, two security guards, a teacher and three of his children, the Diocesan Director of Communications said in a statement.
Rev Elvis Nsaikila added that the authorities of the boarding school had requested parents and guardians to take their children back home as soon as possible as “the school has closed down”. The Bishop of Kumbo, Georges Nkuo, confirmed to BBC Afrique that the church officials had negotiated the release of the hostages on the condition that the school would shut.
“If the army had intervened, there would have been deaths,” he said. Saturday’s school attack was not the first in the restive Anglophone North West region.
A similar incident took place in November last year in the regional headquarter, Bamenda, where more than 80 people, including the principal, a teacher, a driver and 79 students, were kidnapped from the Presbyterian Secondary School Nkwen.
The abduction of the school children and staff marked an escalation of the two-year long crisis that has gripped the two English-speaking North West and South West regions.
Militias who want to create an independent state called Ambazonia, began to emerge in 2017 after security forces responded violently to protests calling for English to be used in classrooms and courtrooms in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions. The country is dominated by its French-speaking majority.
The International Crisis Group (ICG) think-tank estimates that around 10 armed separatist groups exist, gaining control of a “significant proportion of rural areas and main roads” in the North-West and South-West regions.