.– Armed separatists kidnapped 79 students from a Christian boarding school in Cameroon Monday.
The principal, a teacher, and one other staff member were taken hostage Nov. 5 with the students aged 10 to 14 from the Presbyterian Secondary School in Bamenda, the capital of Cameroon’s Northwest region.
A Catholic residing in Bamenda told CNA that “this hostage crisis,” along with the recent killings of a seminarian and U.S. missionary have “left all denominations in mourning and wondering when this crisis will end.”
Violence in Cameroon’s Northwest region has grown since 2016 as a separatist group from Cameroon’s English-speaking minority continues to clash with the nation’s security forces. The armed secessionists have demanded independence for the two Anglophone regions of Cameroon, citing their lack of political influence in the largely Francophone country.
As the search for the kidnapped students continues, Fonki Samuel Forba, moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon, told BBC that he spoke with the kidnappers and they did not demand a ransom.
“All they want is for us to close the schools. We have promised to close down the schools,” he said.
The separatists had previously decreed a boycott of schools in protest of the bias toward the French language over English in the educational system.
“We hope and pray they release the kids and the teachers,” Forba added.
On. Oct 30, an American Baptist missionary was shot in the head amid the fighting in Bamenda.
“This tragedy occurred in the midst of the Anglophone crisis that affects the Northwest and Southwest Regions of Cameroon. Both the separatist fighters and government security forces have used violence against innocent civilians,” State Department Deputy Spokesman Robert Palladino said Oct. 31.
Earlier in October, a seminarian in Bamenda was shot by Cameroonian soldiers outside of a church following Mass.
Archbishop Cornelius Fontem Esua of Bamenda called the 19-year-old seminarian, Gerard Anjiangwe, a “martyr of the Anglophone crisis” in his funeral Mass Oct. 16. Anjiangwe died holding his rosary.
More than 160,000 people have been forced out of their homes by the conflict according to Caritas International.
Archbishop Samuel Kleda of Douala announced a special collection Nov. 4 for the “thousands of displaced people who have abandoned their cities, villages and properties in the hope of finding shelter, survival and relief” in his archdiocese.
As president of the Catholic bishops’ conference of Cameroon, Kleda signed a statement denouncing the violence in the Northwest and Southwest regions, along with Protestant and Muslim leaders in September.
“We, the religious leaders, commit ourselves to denounce and fight together all forms of violence, injustice and the desecration of human rights and dignity until justice and peace return to the entire territory of Cameroon,” it reads.
Kleda recently voiced concern that the election of Cameroon President Paul Biya was marred by fraud. Biya was sworn in to his seventh term Nov. 6. He has ruled Cameroon for 36 years.