Kidnapped teachers released in troubled Cameroon region

BUEA, SW CAMEROON. MAY 12 2019. An empty classroom in a now abandoned school on May 12, 2019 in SW Cameroon. Many government paid teachers now refuse to go to schools in SW Cameroon after threats from armed separatists. In 2017, separatists in Cameroon's Anglophone territories declared an independent state of Ambazonia, an area formerly known as Southern Cameroons, and took up arms against the Cameroonian government. The violence has forced hundreds of thousands from their homes and, according to the UN, left more than a million people in need of humanitarian assistance. (Photo by Giles Clarke/UNOCHA via Getty Images)
BUEA, SW CAMEROON. MAY 12 2019. An empty classroom in a now abandoned school on May 12, 2019 in SW Cameroon. (Photo by Giles Clarke/UNOCHA via Getty Images)

Eleven teachers kidnapped this week in a restive anglophone region of Cameroon were released Thursday, local religious leaders said.

The teachers were abducted in a raid on Tuesday on a Presbyterian primary and secondary school in Kumbo, in the Northwest Region.

A local administrative official confirmed the release to AFP, adding that it was “the result of pressure from the population.”

Samuel Fonki, head of the Presbyterian Church of Cameroon, said the 11 had been released and “are in good health”.

“The people went there (to the separatists’ camp) three times to demand their release,” he said.

The government had said only six teachers were taken, but a member of the group which negotiated with the hostage-takers confirmed to AFP that they numbered 11.

The abduction happened 10 days after seven schoolchildren were killed in a class in the neighbouring Southwest Region, which the government has blamed on militants.

Since separatist violence erupted in Cameroon in 2017, the kidnapping of youngsters, attacks on teachers and destruction of schools have been frequent in the western part of the mainly French-speaking country.

The government said Wednesday that three other schools in the anglophone regions had been attacked since Tuesday.

The UN children’s agency Unicef estimated in November 2019 that some 855,000 children in the anglophone regions were not attending school.

More than 3,000 people have been killed more than 700,000 have fled their homes since October 2017, when militants declared independence in two regions where English speakers are a majority. The declaration has not been recognised internationally.

Rights groups say crimes and abuses have been committed by both separatists and security forces.

Anglophones account for about four million of Cameroon’s 23 million population.

Their presence is a legacy of decolonisation some 60 years ago.

In 1961, a British-ruled territory, the Southern Cameroons, voted to join the newly independent former French colony of Cameroon. The Northern Cameroons joined Nigeria.

Anglophones in Cameroon have nursed decades-long resentment at perceived discrimination in such areas as education, the economy and law.

Demands by moderates for reform and greater autonomy were rejected by the central government, fuelling momentum for the declaration of independence.