Seventy-nine children who were kidnapped from a school in Cameroon on Sunday have now been returned, but Presbyterian Church officials say they appear to have been tortured, Christian Post reports.
“They were brought last night to one of our churches … near Bamenda (the regional capital). They look tired and psychologically tortured,” said Fonki Samuel Forba, moderator of the country’s Presbyterian Church, according to The Associated Press.
While the children were released, two staff members remain in captivity. Forba has plead for the kidnappers to “free the staff still in their keeping.” What is more, the Presbyterian school has said that it will close, as it cannot guarantee the students’ safety.
“It is unfortunate we have to close the school and send home 700 children,” Forba said. “Their security is not assured by the state and armed groups constantly attack and kidnap them.”
The children, aged between 11–17, were taken on Sunday by separatist abductors who are seeking to establish an independent state in Cameroon’s Anglophone Northwest and Southwest regions. Hundreds have been killed in clashes and other kidnappings have taken place. The separatists say that English-speakers are being oppressed in the African country.
Issa Bakary Tchiroma, Cameroon’s communications minister, confirmed in an interview with AFP on Wednesday that all 79 pupils have been released. Tchiroma was unable to provide details about the circumstances under which the students were freed, and could not provide an update on the condition of the two staff members who are still being held captive.
BBC News said that the school’s principal and a teacher are the two staff members yet to be released, though the school’s driver was freed. The Rev. Fonki Samuel, the Presbyterian moderator of the Bamenda school, said:
“The release was done peacefully … by unidentified gunmen. They [students] were brought into the church premises. 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,” Samuel added.
Forba revealed that the school already paid close to $4,000 to the armed gang over a previous kidnapping, but it was not immediately clear if a ransom was paid in this case as well. Northwest region Governor Deben Tchoffo insisted that the government is taking steps to provide security at schools.
“I must insist that we have taken enough measures to protect schools, but we also need the assistance of all,” said Tchoffo. “People should inform the military whenever they see strange faces in their villages.”
Tah Pascal, the father of one of the students who was taken, disputed the claim, however.
“How can he always talk of protection and security when our schools are torched every day, our children tortured and their teachers killed,” asked Pascal. “This is done in spite of the presence of the military.”