Cameroon’s Information Minister Issa Tchiroma says President Paul Biya has ordered the Health Ministry to care for the 16 hostages freed from the neighboring Central African Republic.
“The head of state has given the instruction to the Minister of Health to put at their disposal what they need in order to recover, [and] what they need in terms of health, [and] to spare no efforts to put at their disposal what is necessary for them to recover their health,” said Tchiroma.
The Information minister says the hostages were freed in a Cameroonian army operation. In a telephone interview, he said a ministerial delegation that visited the group at The Cameroon General hospital in Yaoundé had found them in poor condition.
“Apparently they are looking good although completely worn out, completely exhausted [and] completely starved. Because, I guess that they spent a good deal of time before they had an opportunity to have even a single meal. That is why when you see them they are completely desperate,” said Tchiroma.
Among those freed was Mateusz Dziedzic, a Polish Catholic priest.
The hostages had been captured last month by a CAR rebel group known as the Democratic Front of the Central African People. The group is demanding freedom for their leader, Abdoulaye Miskine, who was arrested last year in Cameroon.
Information Minister Tchiroma said President Biya used a combination of tools to win the hostages’ freedom.
“What the head of state used is to combine the commitment of the forces of defense and security, the support of our people…and the leverage of diplomacy. These are the three leverages the head of state used in order to get the release of those hostages.”
Tchiroma said the military operation against the C.A.R. rebels is part of a government offensive to protect citizens’ lives and property and to combat violence by armed groups including Boko Haram in neighboring Nigeria.
He denied media reports that Boko Haram militants have been crossing the border to attack villages in Cameroon.
A spokesman for the rebels disputed the minister’s version of the hostages’ release. The Associated Press quotes Lt. Leonard Kamdika of the Democratic Front of the Central African People as saying the hostages were let go voluntarily as a gesture of goodwill as part of their effort to win their leader’s release.