YAOUNDÉ – Two students who were among four civilians freed from a suspected rebel hideout in Cameroon’s English-speaking northwestern town of Bamenda say they were tortured for pursuing an education. The military said Friday four rebels were killed, four others arrested, and huge consignments of weapons seized from rebels fighting to create an English-speaking state in the French-speaking-majority Cameroon.
Cameroon’s military says a dozen troops Friday night attacked a separatist camp in Ntanka, an English-speaking village near the northwestern town of Bamenda. Saturday morning, the troops handed over four hostages they had freed to Brigadier Generals Valere Nka and Ekongwesse Divine Nnoko, military commanders fighting separatists in Cameroon’s English-speaking Northwest region.
Among the freed hostages was a 17-year-old student who identified herself only as Jane. She said she was abducted on her way to school in Bamenda, held in captivity and tortured for a week.
“They [fighters] started asking us that are they [fighters] too big to go to school or why do we think we are going to school?” she said. “Those questions we could not answer. They were beating us using a cutlass. We were sleeping on the floor with no bed. Nothing. That is why we are dirty like this.”
Looking tired and hungry, Jane said she and three other hostages did not have enough food and water.
The military said two students, a job seeker and a businessman were freed from the abandoned building that served as a separatist camp. One civilian was seriously wounded in crossfire between the troops and fighters. He was rushed to a hospital in Bamenda.
No troops were killed or wounded. Four fighters were killed, four arrested and an unknown number, including women, fled to the nearby bush, the military said.
Job seeker Ansleme Ngwa, 37, said he spent five days in captivity after he was kidnaped from Bamenda. He said the abductors took the telephone numbers of his relatives and called his family to pay a $1,000 ransom for his release. He said his family could not raise the money and he was taken to the separatist camp where he was beaten with a machete three times every day.
“They struggled to negotiate with my family, the money was not coming out and they took me to this their barracks [camp]. We were sleeping on the ground. When the military came now, the first thing that we discovered was a dog. The dog was barking in the night. One of the military smashed the door. They fired constantly. Luckily, we were besides the wall. I was praying seriously, saying, oh God help me,” he said.
Ngwa said he pleaded with his family to bring the requested ransom to Ntanka, but his family instead informed the military.
The military said they had the assistance of some civilians who had noticed strange faces in the abandoned house at Ntanka. Several books, school uniforms, pens and pencils could be seen in the house. The military said it was an indication many students have been abducted and held illegally in the building.
Deben Tchoffo is the governor of Cameroon’s North West region, where Bamenda is. He said children should not fear going to school. He said the military will protect all citizens.
“After the sad incident, we are appealing to the population, the school community, the teachers, the students, we are asking them to continue going to classes, despite that incident,”
Separatists have acknowledged on social media that their fighters, including a commander known as general Lion, were killed in Ntanka but gave no further details.
Separatists have been targeting schools and teachers they say are sponsored by the central government in Yaoundé. The fighters ask English-speaking parents to send their children to community schools separatists have created. The government has banned the separatist schools. International NGOs and rights groups say children should be allowed an education.
Violence erupted in Cameroon’s western regions in 2016, when English-speaking teachers and lawyers protested what they said was the overbearing influence of the French language in the bilingual country. The military reacted with a crackdown and separatists took up weapons claiming to protect civilians.
The conflict has killed more than 3,000 people and displaced over 500,000 according to the United Nations.