Secessionists Blamed For Kidnapping Of Students In Cameroon
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
All right, we're going to turn now to the African nation of Cameroon, where armed men kidnapped scores of students from a boarding school in the northwest part of the country. This kidnapping happened in a region where English-speaking separatists are trying to break away from the dominant French-speaking government. The authorities have blamed the secessionists for these abductions. I spoke earlier with NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, who is monitoring the developments.
OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Greetings.
GREENE: What is the latest here? Dozens of kids kidnapped from a boarding school - this sounds tragic.
QUIST-ARCTON: Seventy-nine children and three staff members - yep, this is what we're being told. Now, although the government is blaming the secessionists - and it's a bit complicated. Cameroon is English-speaking and French-speaking. It's bilingual. It was also colonized by the Germans. So it's quite a complicated country. But the English speakers feel that their region has been marginalized by the dominant French-speaking government of President Paul Biya, who incidentally is going to be sworn in today for his seventh term in office. Now, they say that it's the armed separatists who are causing the problems. But the English speakers say no, you're trying to impose French on us in our justice system, in our schools. We won't have it.
GREENE: So what is the theory here, Ofeibea, that these separatists have actually carried out this kidnapping as a method of intimidation? Or how might this connect to the larger conflict we're talking about?
QUIST-ARCTON: Although the separatists are denying it, a video came out yesterday. And some of the boys, who seemed to be under pressure, were told to identify themselves, identify their school and identify their parents. A Presbyterian Christian school in Bamenda, which is the epicenter of these problems - now, they're saying the government must come to the negotiating table. And it looks like if, indeed, they are the ones who committed - who carried out this mass abduction, it's more of a sort of bargaining tool, leverage, if there are negotiations. At the moment, though, the government is saying - no, you are armed terrorists. We are not negotiating with you.
GREENE: Do we know anything about the condition of these 79 students at this point?
QUIST-ARCTON: We don't. The government says it is combing the area. There have been clashes in the area between the separatists and the soldiers. So it's a big question mark.
GREENE: NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton speaking to us from Dakar about the situation in Cameroon.
Ofeibea, thanks as always. We appreciate it.
QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure. Thank you.
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