YAOUNDE - Armed separatists in Cameroon have abducted 40 people, including a government official. The abductions occurred as President Paul Biya dispatched a minister to the troubled English speaking regions on a peace building mission.
Cameroon businessman Angelbert Etoga has returned to his home town, Yaounde, 24 hours after he was abducted and released by armed separatist groups.
He says he and about 36 others were on a bus traveling to Lebialem in southwestern Cameroon to attend a political rally when armed men attacked and seized the vehicle.
Etoga says they were detained for several hours and some were asked to leave after being told they had to respect the territorial integrity of the English speaking regions of Cameroon, which the kidnappers said was now a state called Ambazonia.
Etoga says it is very possible there is some cooperation among some of the population, traditional rulers, and separatist groups. He says he is very certain that many people are adhering to separatist ideologies.
Etoga says he does not know how many people were freed or held back, but he found his way out of the bush and returned to Yaounde.
The most senior government official in Lebialem, Zachary Ugitoh, says Professor Ivo Leke Tambo, a former secretary general of Cameroon's Secondary Education Ministry and now chair of the Cameroon General Certificate of Education Board, was also abducted.
"I call first and foremost the population of Lewo, the traditional rulers of Lewo to, in fact, put in place whatever means to ensure that Professor Leke Tambo is safe," he said. "They should go out and look for him, he is a venerated elite of that village and if they open their hands together, I think we can be able to get those who have taken him hostage. In the meantime, security here is not going to sleep while waiting for reinforcement from hierarchy."
Ugitoh called for the traditional rulers of Lewo to ensure Professor Tambo's safety and work to ensure his release. He said security measures would be increased in the meantime.
In a video circulated by suspected armed separatists on social media Tambo is seen stripped almost naked in the presence of disguised gunmen.
Two other government officials were abducted last month and have not been found.
The abductions took place the day the first English speaking Cameroonian to be appointed minister of territorial administration, Paul Atanga Nji, was visiting English speaking towns in northwestern Cameroon in an effort to find solutions to the separatist crisis.
Nji says President Biya is committed to win the war he declared against armed anglophone separatists.
"The head-of-state his excellency Paul Biya, commander-in-chief of armed forces told me to tell all the forces of law and order that they can count on him. That he will give them all the resources which will permit them to accomplish their mission," he said.
The crisis in the English speaking regions of Cameroon began in late 2016 with English teachers and lawyers protesting what they called the overbearing use of French in the English speaking zones of the bilingual country and degenerated with separatists calls for independence.
The government says hundreds of people including 30 policemen and soldiers have died in violence since January, when Nigeria detained and then extradited separatist leader Ayuk Tabe Julius and 46 other alleged separatists to Cameroon.
The separatist groups are demanding the 47 detainees, who have not been seen in public, be released.