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Cameroon Separatists Release Eight Workers, Still Holding Several Officials

Separatists in western Cameroon have released eight rubber plantation workers they abducted earlier this month. But the anglophone rebels are still holding onto five government officials and a top chief they abducted months ago in Cameroon's Northwest Region.

In a video circulating on social media, scores of family members and supporters shout with joy that God has spared the lives of their relatives.

Police say the video, taken at the market square in the town of Tiko, also shows eight rubber plantation workers abducted by separatist fighters on January 15. In the video, the eight former abductees look tired and hungry but show no signs of physical injury.

Gabriel Nbene Vefonge, president of the Cameroon Agriculture and Allied Workers Trade Union, was in the crowd welcoming back the former abductees. He said the rubber plantation workers were found in the bush on Sunday and taken to the government hospital in Tiko for medical care.

He told VOA that they were reunited with their families on Monday.

"Family members generally were highly demoralized and we keep praying that such an incident should not occur any longer. These are breadwinners who toil so that they can put bread on the table for their family members. As they continue to join their families, once again we thank God for their release," he said.

Cameroonian authorities blamed anglophone separatists for the abduction of the eight workers. The military said in a statement Monday that the workers have regained their freedom but gave no further details.

Fighters on social media platforms including Facebook and WhatsApp say the workers were released after pledging never to collaborate with Cameroonian soldiers deployed to fight the separatists.

The whereabouts of five government officials abducted by separatists in the town of Ndian last year are still unknown.

Six government officials were abducted on June 16. One of them was found dead two days later.

The president of the Northwest region’s House of Chiefs, an elected organ that discusses community development, also remains missing. The government said Fon Kevin Shumitang was kidnapped from his palace in the town of Bambalang by separatists on December 7.

Fru Angwafor, president of the Northwest Regional Assembly, a regional lawmaking body, said he is counting on the military to rescue Shumitang.

"At our level we have done the necessary contacts and in matters of security, we can only go to the competent services that have set up the necessary enquiries and strategies to get back our vice president of the regional executive council," said Angwafor.

Capo Daniel is deputy defense chief of the Ambazonia Defense Forces, one of the separatists groups. He said fighters abducted Shumitang for collaborating with the central government in Yaoundé.

"His arrest was as a result of his participation in that House of Chiefs that does not represent the aspirations of our people. All members of that House of Chiefs will be subject to arrest by the Ambazonian forces for violation of Southern Cameroon territorial integrity," said Daniel.

Separatists in English-speaking western Cameroon launched their rebellion in 2017 after what they said was years of discrimination by the country’s French-speaking majority.

The conflict has killed more than 3,000 people and displaced more than a half-million.