More than 30 women abducted by separatist rebels for protesting illegal taxes imposed on them have been released, the Cameroon government said Friday.
The women were taken earlier this month from Babanki, a farming village in the Northwest Region of Cameroon, along the border with Nigeria.
"We have taken the women to hospitals where they are being treated for injuries and supported psychosocially," said Simon Emil Mooh, a local government official.
The separatists were collecting monthly payments from children, women and men, imposing taxes on couples before they got married, and forcing families to pay $1,000 to bury their relatives, he said.
The Central African nation has been plagued by fighting since English-speaking separatists launched a rebellion in 2017, with the stated goal of breaking away from the area dominated by the French-speaking majority and setting up an independent, English-speaking state.
The government has accused the separatists of committing atrocities against English-speaking civilians. The conflict has left more than 6,000 people dead and displaced more than 760,000 others, according to the International Crisis Group.
Some of the women released told The Associated Press that they were tortured while in captivity.
"The separatist fighters beat me with their guns after [they] stripped me naked," Vubom Elizabeth told the AP by phone on Friday from the hospital where she was being treated. The rebels broke her left leg and arm, she said.
Separatist leader Capo Daniel said the women were freed after promising to stop protesting but warned that people would continue to be punished if they continue.
The governor of Cameroon's Northwest Region, Deben Tchoffo, called on the collaboration of communities to stop the atrocities and said the government will do what it takes to protect the women from separatist brutality.