Kidnapped students free!

Pupils at a PCC school, symbolic image. Photo: Heiner Heine/Mission 21

Samuel Fonki Forba, president of the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon PCC, wrote in a short message to Mission 21 that all 79 students and the kidnapped driver of the school have been released. However, the school principal and a teacher remain in the hands of the unknown kidnappers. Fonki asks that prayers continue for their release.

It is also still unknown who the kidnappers actually are, he adds: "For now we still do not know the kidnappers until we interview the students." Media reports from the BBC and Spiegel Online also address the fact that there is uncertainty about the identity of the kidnappers. In the Anglophone regions of Cameroon, it is also suspected that the kidnapping was a staging by the Cameroonian military.

Separatist or pro-government provocateur? The identity of the kidnappers remains unclear. The photo shows one of the kidnappers who filmed himself via Whatsapp video.

The events

On Sunday evening, November 4, unknown gunmen attacked the Presbyterian Secondary School in the city of Bamenda. They kidnapped 79 students as well as the principal and two employees. One student managed to escape in the meantime.

The boarding school belongs to the Presbyterian Church, partner church of Mission 21. The church president Samuel Fonki explained that the kidnappers demanded the closure of the school. He said that the church had accepted this demand. Eleven students had already been kidnapped on October 31, and were released at that time in exchange for a ransom payment.

The church had reopened the school, which is attended by more than 600 children, only two weeks ago. In doing so, it had resisted the demand of separatists to keep their schools closed as an expression of resistance against the central government in Yaoundé. In doing so, the church insisted on the human right to education.

The church leadership released a statement on Tuesday night. In it, it condemns the act and demands that the perpetrators release the abductees immediately and unconditionally. The church appeals to the parties to the conflict in Cameroon to respect the integrity of schoolchildren. It calls on the government to urgently resolve the crisis in the country. The Church asks the international community to seek ways to assist in the resolution of the crisis.

The chairman of the church, Samuel Fonki Forba told Mission 21 that the identity of the kidnappers is still unclear. The church leadership was sent a video of about five minutes by the kidnappers, it is also available to Mission 21. The video shows some of the students being intimidated. Fonki explains that the purpose of this is apparently to increase pressure on the church.

Emergency aid for the civilian population

The kidnapping is linked to the conflict in Cameroon between the French-speaking central government and the two English-speaking regions in western Cameroon. The conflict intensified when separatists declared the independence of the regions on October 1, 2017. According to aid organizations, more than 400,000 people are on the run because of the conflict.

In summer 2018, Mission 21 responded to the plight of the civilian population that had fled and launched an emergency relief and reconstruction project in Cameroon, together with the PCC and the Baptist Church of Cameroon. The church is broadly anchored and accepted among the population. The emergency aid project also includes measures to provide refugee children and young people with education in an informal way. This gives them the chance of a future beyond poverty and violence.

► The BBC reports online about the kidnapping

► SPIEGEL- Online on the backgrounds

► Report from the crisis area on Radio SRF, November 6, 2018

► Link to the Cameroon emergency aid project

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