Students kidnapped from a boarding school in Cameroon’s North-West region have been freed, officials say.
The 78 students and three others were seized early on Sunday in the region’s capital, Bamenda.
A driver was also released, but the school’s principal and a teacher are still being held.
The government and separatists in the English-speaking region have been accusing each other of being behind the kidnapping.
A video purportedly showing some of the kidnapped students from Bamenda’s Presbyterian Secondary School has been shared online, sparking outrage.
An Anglophone separatist movement took up arms last year to demand independence for the North-West and South-West regions – the two English-speaking regions in a country where French is the most widely spoken official language.
It is unclear who kidnapped the students and why they did so, but authorities say the freed students are being questioned before being reunited with their parents.
How were the children freed?
According to the Presbyterian Church of Cameroon, the students were abandoned in one of their buildings in the town of Bafut, about 24km (15 miles) from Bamenda.
“The release was done peacefully… by unidentified gunmen. They [students] were brought into the church premises,” Rev Fonki Samuel, the Presbyterian moderator of the Bamenda school, told the BBC’s Newsday programme about the release.
“The first information we got from them [kidnappers] is their call and they were telling us they intended to release the children yesterday [Tuesday] morning… but unfortunately it rained so heavily that could not happen.
“So [on] the evening of yesterday [Tuesday], surprisingly and by God’s grace, the children were brought back to us.”
Rev Samuel told the BBC that 78 students, not 79 as earlier reported, had been released.
The Presbyterian church also revealed that Sunday’s kidnapping was the second such case at the same school in less than a week.
In the earlier 31 October incident, 11 boys were taken and then released. It is unclear who the kidnappers were.
The army had been deployed to try and find the children.
Who was behind the kidnap?
Rev Samuel told the BBC he was not concerned about who was behind the kidnapping, only “overwhelmed and happy” that the schoolchildren had been released.
Cameroon’s authorities have blamed the kidnap on Anglophone separatist militias – who have called for schools in English-speaking regions to be closed.
They want to create an independent state called Ambazonia.
A video of the hostages released on Monday showed one of the captives saying they had been seized by “Amba Boys” – the widely-used term to describe the separatist rebels.
An Anglophone group, the Ambazonia International Policy Commission (AIPC), has however cast doubt on the idea that the separatists were behind the kidnapping, noting that the person recording the video appears to have a poor grasp of Pidgin-English, the language spoken widely in the Anglophone area of the country.
One of the kidnappers was apparently heard speaking French.
What is happening in English-speaking parts of Cameroon?
English-speakers in Cameroon have long complained that they face discrimination.
They say that they are excluded from top civil service jobs and that government documents are often only published in French, even though English is also an official language.
Cameroon – still divided along colonial lines
Africa’s borders were “carved up” up by colonial powers
- Colonised by Germany in 1884
- British and French troops force Germans to leave in 1916
- Cameroon is split three years later – 80% goes to the French and 20% to the British
- French-run Cameroon becomes independent in 1960
- Following a referendum, the (British) Southern Cameroons join Cameroon, while Northern Cameroons join English-speaking Nigeria