Armed men kidnapped 78 students from a Presbyterian school in the Nkwen village, Northwest Region Governor Deben Tchoffo said.
A video uploaded to social media showed the kidnapped children and the alleged kidnappers, calling themselves “Amba boys” in reference to the breakaway Ambazonia state that the separatists have been trying to create. The footage could not be immediately verified, but parents have reportedly been reacting to images of their children on social media, according to AP.
Confirmed that more than 70 pupils have been kidnapped in the North West region of #Cameroon. Children are once again the victims of a crisis that is not theirs. NOTHING can justify kidnapping innocent children! They are #NotATarget. Civilians are #NotATarget https://t.co/gRcI1QiTXi
— Allegra Baiocchi (@AllegraBaiocchi) November 5, 2018
Earlier, a military source told Reuters that the school principal has been kidnapped along with the students.
“In total, 81 people were kidnapped including the principal. They were taken to the bush,” the source said.
The separatists, who are protesting against President Paul Biya’s French-speaking government, have imposed strict curfews, shuttered schools, and killed government soldiers and policemen in guerilla raids.
The conflict between the insurgents and government security forces intensified last year after a government crackdown on peaceful protesters. The fighting has displaced tens of thousands of people, with many fleeing Bamenda for the calmer Francophone regions.
In July, a video showing government soldiers shooting women and children sparked outrage and accusations that the Cameroon government – a close ally of the US in Africa – was carrying out arbitrary executions of anyone believed to be supporting the Boko Haram terrorist group.
In an October presidential election, opposition candidate Maurice Kamto declared victory against Biya, who has ruled since 1982, but Biya’s ruling party dismissed claims of defeat and accused Kamto of breaking the law. Reuters reported that the opposing candidate did not provide evidence to back up claims that he won.
A government spokesperson said it was keeping track of developments surrounding the kidnapping, but provided no other details.