YAOUNDE, CAMEROON - A Cameroon military plane arrived at this capital city's international airport Saturday morning, delivering 27 people into freedom after months of captivity in Nigeria by suspected Boko Haram militants.
The former hostages included 10 Chinese workers and the wife of Cameroon's deputy prime minister, Amadou Ali. As they entered Yaounde Nsimalen International Airport Saturday morning, all looked weary and unkempt.
But they finally were "safe," President Paul Biya said in a statement.
The hostages were kidnapped in two incidents, both in Cameroon’s far north. The Chinese workers were taken May 16 from a construction camp near the town of Waza, amid gunfire that killed a Cameroonian soldier. The rest were captured in two July 27 attacks around Kolofata that left 15 dead.
To obtain their release, Cameroon officials negotiated with but paid no ransom to the militants, government spokesman Issa Tchiroma Bakari said. The militants months ago had demanded money and the release of all Boko Haram members taken prisoner in Cameroon, according to earlier media reports.
The freed hostages were handed over to Cameroonian soldiers in Kolofata, then transported to the capital.
Several collapse at airport
On Saturday, one of the Chinese men and two Cameroonians collapsed at the airport and were rushed to Yaounde’s general hospital. Cameroon’s government sent all 27 to the hospital’s emergency unit to be assessed.
Former hostage Seini Boukar, a Muslim cleric, mayor and traditional ruler of Kolofata, told VOA he and the other captives had not been physically brutalized but were psychologically tormented by losing their freedom.
The cleric expressed gratitude to all who worked for their liberation.
Alhaji Boukar, a Kolofata resident whose two sisters and a brother were kidnapped, told VOA he was happy to have them back.
He said he was extremely happy to meet members of his family and their cleric and traditional ruler. He added that in African cultures, when a leader is kidnapped, so is the whole community.
More security sought
He also called on Cameroon’s government to ensure the security of its people living near the long border with Nigeria, where Boko Haram has been waging a bloody insurgency since 2009.
The militant group is blamed for thousands of deaths across northern Nigeria and has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of more than 200 girls from the Nigerian town of Chibok in April, sparking international outrage.
Nigeria's government has struggled to stop the attacks, despite deploying thousands of troops to the northeast and imposing emergency rule in three states.
Some information for this report was contributed by Reuters.