GAROUA BOULAI, CAMEROON - Camerooon's military freed a group of people this week who had been taken hostage by rebels from the Central African Republic.
The rebels took 22 locals hostage two weeks ago and held them for ransom. But the military’s raid Thursday night on Garoua Boulai freed 13 Central Africans and Cameroonians.
Residents in the Cameroon villages of Mbaimbum, Tchabal and Bigao were still discussing the raid days later.
Cattle rancher Muhamady Issa was one of those abducted. He said the kidnappers had killed some of the hostages.
Issa said that while in captivity in the mountains on the border with CAR, he decided to escape to the surrounding bushes and hills instead of being slaughtered, as had happened to seven fellow captives within 10 days.
Issa fled and was found in the hills by the Cameroon military. At least two of the people kidnapped were still missing.
Five kidnappers killed
Cameroonian army Colonel Dominique Njonkan, commander of the troops who carried out the raid, said his men killed five of the abductors. He said that with the public's help, the army was trying to determine which armed gang the men belonged to.
"The results are satisfactory and the population is collaborating more and more,” Njonkan said. “They must have confidence, make sure that they go ahead with their activities without fear, to make sure that economic activities are revamped to the maximum."
Cameroon shares a boundary of over 1,000 kilometers with CAR. Since conflicts in the neighboring state erupted in 2013, many armed gangs have established bases in eastern Cameroon.
Cameroon deployed its elite corps, the Rapid Intervention Batallion, to fight the rebels.
George Kombo, spokesman for youths of Kadei district on the border, said that despite the heavy presence of troops, armed gangs continued to attack them regularly.
He said hardly a week goes by in the Kadei district without armed groups crossing over from CAR to steal, kill or capture people for ransom. He said the last incident occurred Thursday when an armed gang killed six people in the border village of Bombe, which is also home to hundreds of CAR refugees.
The government and local authorities have not confirmed the attacks, but they say the military presence has been increased in villages in the Kadei district.
1 million-plus displaced
Violence erupted in CAR in 2013 after longtime leader Francois Bozize was overthrown by a predominantly Muslim rebel alliance called the Seleka. The conflict has displaced more than 1 million people, according to the U.N.
This week, close to 400 CAR refugees in Cameroon agreed to voluntarily repatriate. But the vast majority of the 274,000 refugees are reluctant to go home because of continuing violence.