At least 170 students and teachers were still held hostage on Sunday by gunmen after earlier reports said they had been released, said school authorities.
“They (gunmen) were actually here to hand over the children to us,” said Rev. Oliver Shey, a senior administrator of the St Augustine’s College, a Catholic secondary school in Kumbo, a town in Northwest, one of the two war-torn English-speaking regions of Cameroon.
“But when they noticed the presence of government forces, they quickly took the children back to their hiding place,” said Shey. “We have asked the military to leave the school premises to permit them bring back the children,” said Shey.
“Instead of 145 students kidnapped yesterday (Saturday), they (gunmen) have told us that they are now in keeping of over 200 students and 170 among them are our students,” he said.
All of the students are girls and the principal of the school, two security guards and a teacher and his family, were also abducted, he said. They will be spending the second night wherever they are if they are not released on Sunday, he added. Local government officials confirmed that the students were still in captivity.
A local official who requested anonymity said sources informed that the gunmen were holding more than 200 hostages, the majority of whom were students. The school is located on the outskirts of Kumbo, which is not easily accessible, making it difficult for security forces to intervene on time, said the official.
Locals interviewed said parents and relatives of the kidnapped children have gathered on the school campus demanding the “immediate” release of the children. “We are still waiting for our children. We were called yesterday to come and take them home today but we were surprised that they were taken back again. We pray that nothing bad happens to them,” a parent said.
Government officials hinted that President Paul Biya, who has been briefed on the situation, has ordered that “all should be done” to ensure the safe release of the children. The government and armed separatists have been engaged in a blame-game of rampant kidnappings in the strife-torn regions.
The government regularly accuses separatists of the abductions while the separatists insist that they were staged by the government to tarnish their image internationally. Armed separatists fighting for the “independence” of the two Anglophone regions of Northwest and Southwest in Cameroon have been clashing with government forces since November 2017.
The separatists have ordered the closure of schools in the regions. Local authorities said the separatists have torched more than 100 schools that insist to operate.