All 78 children and a driver kidnapped in west Cameroon were released on Wednesday, but the school principal and one teacher are still being held by the armed men, a priest conducting negotiations said.
The group was abducted in Bamenda, a commercial hub of Cameroon’s restive English-speaking region, on Monday.
“Praise God 78 children and the driver have been released. The principal and one teacher are still with the kidnappers. Let us keep praying,” Samuel Fonki, a minister of the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon, said.
He had earlier put the number of children taken at 79 but later said one of their numbers was, in fact, a teacher, who remained with the kidnappers.
A video purportedly of the kidnapped children was released on social media by “Amba boys”, a reference to the state of Ambazonia that armed separatists are trying to establish in Cameroon’s northwest and southwest regions, The Associated Press news agency reported.
In the video, the kidnappers force several students to give their names and the names of their parents. The children say they were kidnapped by the Amba boys, and they do not know where they are being held.
Fonki and the Cameroonian military have accused anglophone separatists of carrying out the kidnappings, but a separatist spokesman denied involvement.
In an inauguration speech following last month’s election to extend his 36-year rule, President Paul Biya told the separatists to lay down their arms or face the full force of the law, offering no concessions to them.
Anglophone secessionists have imposed curfews and closed schools as part of their protest against Biya’s French-speaking government and its perceived marginalisation of the English-speaking minority, although they had never kidnapped children before.