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Cameroonian Hostages Freed from CAR Captivity

FILE - Members of a rebel group are seen in the town of Bria, Central African Republic, July 15, 2013.

Eleven Cameroonians, including the mayor of the northern town of Ladgo, have been freed from captivity after they were seized by a rebel group from the Central African Republic more than a year ago.

Government ministers, family members and a crowd of onlookers turned out in Cameroon's capital Monday to receive Mama Abakai and 10 others, who were seized by armed men from the east Cameroonian villages of Gbbabio and Yokossire, and taken across the border to the bushes of the CAR.

Upon capture, Abakai said, the group was divided into pairs and chained at the leg and abdomen and, at times, the hands. Two people were given a liter of water to share for 24 hours, and they ate the same meal, once a day, for 16 months. One captive reportedly was held for 18 months.The captives were allowed to go to the toilet twice a day, at 10 a.m. and at 5 p.m.

The captives lost hope, Abakai said, when rebels told them that if the government of Cameroon did not pay for their liberation by July 31, 2016, they would be killed.

Abakai said two of the hostages died in those deplorable conditions, and he expressed gratitude to God and the government of Cameroon for helping to save his life. He did not know if ransoms were paid.

Captive Daouda Abdoulaye, 48, said the armed men told them they were members of a movement fighting for liberation of the Central African Republic; they vowed to kill the hostages if the government of Cameroon refused to pay undisclosed sums of money to secure their release.

A group of soldiers armed with rifles, claiming to belong to the Democratic Front for Central African People, led by Aboubakar Sidiki, took the captives to the bush, where they were tortured every morning, Abdoulaye said. They were kept in villages, away from other human settlements.

Cameroon Minister of Defense Joseph Beti Assomo, who received the freed hostages, refused to comment on how much Cameroon paid for their release, but said negotiations were carried out following instructions from President Paul Biya.

Biya discretely and efficiently coordinated all the processes that led to the people’s release, Assomo said. The government’s main preoccupation now, he said, is to attend to their health and psychological care.

Armed groups from the CAR periodically cross into Cameroon to kidnap cattle ranchers and businessmen for ransom, or to steal their properties.

Cameroon shares a 900-kilometer long boundary with the troubled CAR, and presently hosts 300,000 refugees from the neighboring state.