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Cameroon: Hostages Freed

  • Drew Hinshaw

Cameroon says 11 members of its government reportedly kidnapped in the country's oil-rich Bakassi region by a separatist milita have been freed.

The names of the officials who had been held hostage were read aloud by government spokesman Bakari Tchiroma at a ceremony Thursday night in Yaounde, the capital.

Authorities have confirmed the hostages were freed on Wednesday, but other details of the kidnapping remain unclear or in dispute. There also have been conflicting reports about how many hostages there were.

The Cameroonian hostages - most of them local-government officials - were seized by unidentified armed men on February 6, in waters off the country's Bakassi peninsula, an oil-rich area where separatist rebels have been active.

News agency reports have quoted security sources as saying the kidnappers were members of a group seeking independence for the Bakassi region, but no one has publicly claimed responsibility for the abduction.

The Bakassi peninsula has changed hands repeatedly over centuries, from European colonial powers to Nigeria, and finally to Cameroon in 2008.

Without commenting on which group staged the kidnapping, or what the political motivation may have been, spokesman Tchiroma told reporters that Bakassi's potential wealth has undermined its peace.

"This part of our territory which is endowed with enormous riches is the object of much jealousy and has a propensity toward instability," he said.

Authorities in Cameroon have refused to discuss a report by the French press agency that ther Yaounde government paid more than $400,000 in ransom to gain the hostages' release. The same account identified the hostage-takers as Nigerian nationals, and said four suspects are being held in the Cameroonian capital.

Reporters pressed for details of how the government managed to liberate its kidnapped members, Tchiroma said no government in the world would disclose those kinds of details.

"If today I came here and told you that the government has negotiated, and come out with [paid out] money, is that not a way of encouraging more takings of hostages?" he said. The government spokesman said such a situation would make life "impossible" for Cameroonian citizens and soldiers in the Bakassi region.

Rebels in Nigeria, Cameroon's eastern neighbor, also have been fighting for independence in their oil-rich delta region.