All 79 students abducted by armed separatists from a Presbytarian school in western Cameroon have been released, a leader of the church, the Reverend Samuel Fonki, said on Wednesday.
The students, between ages 11 and 17, were kidnapped along with the principal, driver and another staff member from a Presbyterian secondary school in the town of Bamenda in the early hours of Monday.
“The students have been released and are back at their school. We have called on the parents to come and take their children home,” Fonki told dpa via telephone.
The three adults have not yet been released, according to the reverend.
The kidnappers were forced to release the children after they realized they were surrounded by security forces, military spokesman Didier Badjeck said in a statement. “Feeling boxed [in], the terrorists had no choice but release the kids,” said Badjeck.
The exact circumstances of the release remained unknown on Wednesday.
The Presbyterian Church has decided to close all its schools in the troubled region “until peace returns,” Fonki said.
Instead of a ransom demand, the abductors had demanded that the school shut down, part of an apparent broader effort to create havoc in the region.
Cameroon, a former French colony in West Africa, has been troubled by unrest since its two main English-speaking areas, the North-West and South-West regions, announced in 2016 that they wished to secede and form a new country called Ambazonia.
English speakers in Cameroon have long complained of being treated like second-class citizens and getting less government funding.
This year, deadly violence marked by indiscriminate killings and mass displacement has been escalating in the Anglophone regions, according to human rights group Amnesty International.
Over the past months, armed separatists have stabbed and shot military personnel, burned down schools and attacked teachers.
At the same time, security forces tortured people, fired on crowds, made arbitrary arrests and destroyed villages in the English-speaking regions, the international human rights organization said.