Militants in the African nation of Cameroon have abducted several dozen schoolchildren and at least one adult, and as of this writing no group has claimed responsibility, BBC News is reporting.
Seventy-eight students and at least three other people, including the principal of the school, were kidnapped from the Presbyterian Secondary School in Bamenda, in the northwestern part of the country. The children are all 10 to 14 years of age; the ages and possible connection to the school of the other victims remain unclear.
According to an unidentified source speaking to Reuters, via NDTV News, the victims were “taken into the bush.”
Cameroon’s Civil War
The poor West African nation has been mired in a conflict by separatist militias. Specifically, two regions in the western party of the country, North-West and South-West, are caught up in a civil war of sorts between separatist militias and the country’s government.
The rebels in the English-speaking regions want their own country, separate from the rest of Cameroon’s largely French-speaking population. And the rebels have made the country’s school system the focus of its bloody campaign. Claiming that the country’s schools collectively suppress the English-speaking tradition of the two provinces, the separatists, who want their own country called Ambazonia, imposed strict curfews and closed down schools in protest of President Paul Biya’s French-speaking government.
Fears of mass student kidnapping in western Cameroon https://t.co/VFdg3MeyDO
— BBC News (World) (@BBCWorld) November 5, 2018
The separatists claim that Biya’s government heavily favors French speakers, installing only Francophones in key government positions, and marginalizing English-speakers.
The separatist movement has gained momentum since 2017 when Biya’s government began cracking down on peaceful demonstrations. Several people have fled Bamenda and other cities in the breakaway regions, hoping to find peace elsewhere in the French-speaking portion of the country.
This is not the first time separatist militants in Cameroon have abducted schoolchildren in their quest to make their point. In October, five students of the Atiela Bilingual High School were abducted by separatist militants. As of this writing, their whereabouts remain unknown.
And although no one has publicly claimed responsibility for this abduction as of this writing, the Right Reverend Fonki Samuel Forba, moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon, said that the kidnappers demanded that the school be closed. That would square with the tactics of the country’s rebels.
“They don’t want any ransom. All they want is for us to close the schools. We have promised to close down the schools. We hope and pray they release the kids and the teachers.”
As of this writing, Cameroon’s government has not confirmed or denied the kidnapping, but has stated that they are aware of “an event.” They provided no further information.