79 Presbyterian Schoolchildren Kidnapped in Cameroon Near Where US Missionary Was Murdered

Unrest in the English-speaking region in Cameroon, video from November 2018. | (Screenshot: YouTube/CGTN Africa)

Prayers are being urged after 79 schoolchildren, along with three staff members, were kidnapped by separatists from a Presbyterian school in Cameroon.

The Associated Press reported that the students, aged between 11-17, have appeared in a video posted on social media by the abductors, who call themselves "Amba boys."

The latest incident on Sunday in the English-speaking region of the country is apparently related to the separatists' attempts to establish an independent state in Cameroon's Anglophone North West and South West regions.

The video shows the boys being forced by the kidnappers to give their names and those of their parents.

The armed men in the video explain that the students will not be released until their new state "Ambazonia" is created.

"We shall only release you after the struggle. You will be going to school now here," the men say.

The school is located in Nkwen, a village near the regional capital, Bamenda, not far from where U.S. missionary Charles Wesco was murdered in front of his wife and son last week.

"It is rather unfortunate that this is happening, that 79 of our children and three of their staff can be picked up by terrorists," said North West Region Gov. Deben Tchoffo. "We have asked our military to do everything and bring back the kids alive."

The Right Reverend Fonki Samuel Forba, the moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon, told BBC News that he had spoken with the kidnappers.

"They don't want any ransom. All they want is for us to close the schools. We have promised to close down the schools," Forba said.

"We hope and pray they release the kids and the teachers," he added.

A number of kidnappings have been carried out in the area in recent times, with another five students taken from Atiela Bilingual High School on October 19. It is not yet known who took the children in that case, however.

Clashes involving the separatists, who argue that the Cameroon school system suppresses English-speakers, have led to hundreds of deaths in the past year. Freedom-seeking militias emerged in 2017 following a government crackdown on mass protests related to the challenges English-speakers face in the North-West and South-West.

Wesco, a father of eight, who had arrived in Cameroon in October to serve as missionaries with his family, was killed when unknown assailants started shooting bullets in the car he was in with his wife, one of their sons, and another missionary.

Wesco, 43, was hit twice, and died in a Bamenda hospital despite attempts to save his life.

Human rights group Amnesty International condemned the latest kidnapping.

"These appalling abductions show just how the general population is paying the highest price as violence escalates in the Anglophone region," said Samira Daoud, Amnesty International Deputy regional director for West and Central Africa.

"The abduction of schoolchildren and teachers can never be justified. Whoever is responsible must release and return the victims immediately.

Daoud continued: "We express solidarity with the families of these children and demand that the Cameroon authorities do everything in their power to ensure all the pupils and school staff are freed unharmed."

"In a case with a chilling echo of the 2014 kidnappings of the Chibok schoolgirls in Nigeria, it is vital that Cameroon's government act swiftly and decisively to reunite these children with their loved ones," she added, referring to the over 200 schoolgirls kidnapped from a Christian town by Islamic radicals Boko Haram.

Follow Stoyan Zaimov on Facebook: CPSZaimov

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